John "Jack" Macrae III, former editor-in-chief of Henry Holt, has died. He was 91.
Macrae was best known as the American publisher of two-time Booker Award winner Hilary Mantel. He was also behind award-winning titles by such authors as Ed Abbey, Jorge Luis Borges, Carl Safina, and Calvin Tomkins.
Over the course of his career, Macrae worked at Harper & Row, Dutton, and spent 35 years at Henry Holt, where he served as editor-in-chief in from 1983 to 1989. He later managed an eponymous imprint at Holt, before retiring in 2018. In a statement announcing Macrae's departure, then Holt president and publisher Stephen Rubin said Macrae is "hugely well-regarded within the publishing community" and "known for his sharp wit, winning personality, and deep knowledge on a wide variety of subjects."
Rubin added that the Macrae family "boasts three generations of notable publishers, none more distinguished than Jack." Indeed, publishing was a family affair: Macrae's father and grandfather both sat at the helm of E. P. Dutton, in the 1940s and '20s, respectively. In 1968, Jack Macrae became the president of Dutton. Under his leadership, Dutton published Gail Sheehy's bestseller Passages in 1976.
In 2003 Macrae opened the independent bookstore 192 Books in New York City with his wife, the art dealer Paula Cooper.
In a 2010 article for the Huffington Post, former Dutton editor-at-large Amy Hertz wrote of Macrae that "in all of publishing and probably much of the world, there's just nobody else like him." Under his mentorship at Dutton, Hertz wrote that she "saw what pure selfless passion for beautiful writing, wildly creative thinking, and sheer genius could do in the world." She continued:
"If there is something he can do to further a great idea or nurture talent, he won't stop until he's exhausted every possibility. He kayaked into Poland to smuggle Lech Walesa's manuscript out. He took down Vaclav Havel's messages to relay back to the States moments before Havel was arrested. He published cantankerous environmentalists Ed Abbey and Doug Peacock. He went after memoirs from apartheid South Africa and the end of the Cultural Revolution in China so that people would understand the suffering caused by lack of freedom. He brought over the great Russian poets Yevtushenko and Voznesensky, and he worked with them to get Russian dissidents released from prison.
"Jack's brilliance, and what he passed along to me, is in not worrying about what's on the page you're looking at when evaluating a proposal or a manuscript. His brilliance is in hearing the thinking behind the author's words, inchoate in the holy mess that when I worked for him was usually spread across his office floor. He taught me to find that kernel and to burnish it. He taught me that this process was the most important thing we as editors could do for people and he also did it for me personally."
Macrae is survived by his wife, his four children, and two stepchildren.