On September 8, Random House publisher Susan Kamil died at age 69, suddenly and of complications from lung cancer, and the news shook the publishing world. Over the course of more than four decades, Kamil rose to the top of the book business, editing such accomplished authors as Sophie Kinsella, Ruth Reichl, Salman Rushdie, and Elizabeth Strout. For nearly a decade, she led Random House’s flagship publishing group and its imprints through continued successes and a merger with Penguin. Her friends and colleagues across the industry remember her as a magnanimous, compassionate, and brilliant individual and editor. Here’s what some of them had to say in the wake of her death.
Nicole Aragi, agent
I’m devastated. Susan was one of the most vital people in publishing. She was always fair, always warm, always bubbling with energy, and a great publisher—a dream to work with. Putting out a book is invariably complicated, but Susan made me feel like we were managing the complications together, and that what counted most was the book and the work and getting it to readers. She did so with her cheerful, raspy voice; vaulting enthusiasm; and so much laughter and decency. It also has to be said that she made a fine, fine dinner and showed you could have substance and be stylish at the same time.
Elyse Cheney, agent
Susan was the first person in the industry to take my calls 25 years ago, and I’ve relied on her ever since. Even though I knew nothing and no one at the time, she spoke to me at length and with warmth and respect. She was a city girl and the picture of style in her jeans, black sweaters, and sneakers with her red spectacles. Buoyant, fearless, blunt, electric, she was a reflection of the best of New York. She had personality. She could eviscerate a manuscript and then build it back up again. She spoke in bold terms; she either worshipped a person, as she did so many of her colleagues, or she would just roll her eyes, say nothing, and smile. She made me, and so many other people just entering the business, feel known. Maddeningly, she took credit for nothing. And yet she was exceptional.
Clare Conville, agent
Susan was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. Vivid, charismatic, glitteringly smart, funny, rigorous, and enormously kind. An extraordinary editor and a brilliant publisher. I met her almost 20 years ago, just after Conville and Walsh had launched. She was already a legend in New York, and I so wanted to make an impression. We talked and laughed and talked some more and then, when I finally arrived, late, at my next meeting, it was to discover she had been generous enough to ring ahead to my next publishing date to say I was worth the 30 minutes. I was more than lucky to call her my dear friend, and I will miss her immeasurably.
Susan Golomb, agent
How to convey the enormous loss of Susan Kamil to the publishing industry? Her passion, devotion, and generosity to her authors was unparalleled. She was a brilliant publisher, an indefatigable editor and a cheerful advocate. A cherished friend and confidant; I will so miss her bright smile, her great humor, her wisdom, her generosity, and above all her great love. In fact, her capacity for love was so wide and deep it touched everyone who came within her orbit. A great light has been dimmed, and publishing will not be the same without her and her example of everything publishing should be.
Leigh Haber, books editor for O, the Oprah Magazine and coordinator of Oprah’s Book Club
Susan epitomized grace and editorial brilliance. I think in terms of what motivated her in publishing, after all those years, it was still the thrill of discovery and the desire to support writers and writing. I generally think we are all replaceable, when it comes to work. With Susan, I’m pretty sure the opposite is true.
Jennifer Joel, agent
Working with Susan came to be, for me, simply what publishing was at its best. She was a thoughtful and enthusiastic reader, a relentlessly perfection-pursuing editor, a savvy marketer, a tenacious saleswoman, and a tireless cheerleader for books and authors, whose conviction and enthusiasm were irresistibly compelling. She was also unfailingly kind, warm, generous, funny, energetic, considerate, and fair. Another agent once called me to ask if I had any advice for her on how to get Susan to stop editing a manuscript. The only true answer I could give was that her author needed to realize that Susan was undoubtedly correct and deliver back a draft that not only heeded her suggestions, but exceeded her expectations. Much easier said than done, but the pursuit of Susan’s ambition—to tell stories that make us feel, whether joyous or heartbroken or outraged or compelled, that show us people and places and ideas we might not have known we needed to understand, that were true, and to tell them earnestly, insistently—is both our reason and our purpose. It’s inconceivable that she’s gone, as is what we’ve lost. Simply put, I feel we—literature, the publishing business, and I personally—have been diminished.
Jon Meacham, author and former Random House editor
Susan Kamil was brilliant, generous, funny, and fair. A great editor, publisher, colleague, and friend. The Republic of Letters—and the Republic itself—is poorer for her loss.
Sara Nelson, HarperCollins v-p and executive editor
Susan Kamil was among the most generous and enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. Her books were the most lovingly edited, her home the most welcoming, her advice the most thoughtful, and her smile the biggest.
Gary Shteyngart, author
She was one of the greats, generous and hilariously witty, a writer’s dream of an editor. This is a sad day for American literature, but her work lives on in the hands of millions of readers.
Andrew Wylie, agent
Susan Kamil was an angel: diligent, passionate, cheerful, thoroughly professional, a delight to work with. When you were dealing with Susan, you always felt that things were in safe hands. Oh, she will be missed.
This article has been updated for clarity.