An important chapter in the history of American publishing was recalled at the memorial for André Schiffrin, held Wednesday night at the Great Hall at Cooper Union in New York City. Schiffrin, who died last year at the age of 78, was an iconic figure in the industry and, to many, a trailblazer in independent publishing.
Controversially forced out as publisher of the Random House-owned Pantheon Books in 1990, early in the S.I. Newhouse era of Random House ownership, Schffrin commanded such loyalty that the resignations of five Pantheon editors followed. Schiffrin then went on to raise enough money to found the non-profit New Press, which met with immediate success, with a list featuring writers like Studs Terkel, who followed him from Pantheon.
Schiffrin’s departure from Pantheon after 28 years led to protests and editorials and a public demonstration in front of the Random House offices. Publishers Weekly’s editor-in-chief John F. Baker’s editorial in support of Schiffrin added fuel to the fire, an event referenced several times during the recollections on the Cooper Union stage.
Diane Wachtell, who worked with Schiffrin at Pantheon, and then followed him to the New Press, welcomed the crowd of 200 or so by speaking about the man who hired her and allowed her to “share in European royalty.” Indeed, Andre’s father, Jacques, had been a prominent publisher in Paris, and young Andre had met the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre and Marguerite Duras.
During the course of the two-hour memorial, Schiffrin’s two daughters, Anya and Natalia, spoke warmly about life at their 94th Street apartment, as well as summers in France. Calvin Trillin recalled his years at Yale with Schiffrin. Dawn Davis, who 25 years ago was a young Wall Street analyst before Schiffrin wooed her to the New Press (v-p and publisher of 37 INK, an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Atria Publishing Group), praised the diversity that Schiffrin brought to New York publishing. Harper’s magazine publisher Rick MacArthur recalled the “Parisian literary salon that Andre hosted on the Upper West Side,” where you could find “Studs Terkel and Jonathan Miller discussing 1930s stage comedies—and not a hint of snobbery.”
Wachtell, in her remarks, mentioned that John Baker, who was in attendance, asked her beforehand if politics would be discussed. She deferred such discussion to the reception to follow. With the five Pantheon editors that resigned in support of Schiffrin in the audience, as well as Bob Bernstein, who headed up Random House till S.I. Newhouse replaced him, politics and publishing were indeed discussed, passionately. It’s a public conversation that Andre Schiffrin started nearly 25 years ago.
*This article has been corrected. A previous version identified Dawn Davis as an executive editor at the New Press. She is v-p, publisher at 37 Ink.