After 26 years as director of Beacon Press, Helene Atwan will retire July 29.

After serving as associate publisher at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and v-p and director of marketing for Pocket Books, Atwan moved to Beacon Press in 1996 during a period when the publisher was generally losing money and as guided Beacon to more than 20 years of profitability a record revenue.

“I’m especially proud,” said Atwan in an announcement to staff, “that our list has grown to be so strong over the past quarter decade, that we have strengthened our impact in the culture, doubled our annual sales, and that we have a very healthy endowment that I hope will only continue to grow over the coming years.”

The improved financial performance was accompanied by Atwan's development of the most diverse publishing teams in the industry, publishing books on race, gender and sexuality, feminism, the environment, economic justice, public education, public health, and many other topics. In recent years, Beacon's acquisitions have moved into such topics as disability, marginalized peoples, religious pluralism, intersectional issues, immigration, and food justice. Beacon is also the publisher of White Fragility by Robin Di Angelo. First released in 2018, the book sold more than 860,000 copies in 2020 following the increase in social justice topics after the murder of George Floyd and was one of the year's top-selling books.

Among her many acquisitions Atwan brought back Mary Oliver to Beacon and published 11 more of her titles. The list of other authors Atwan has edited and published over the years include Bill Ayers, Richard Blanco, Howard Bryant, Nancy Gertner, Anita Hill, Solomon Jones, Marianne Leone, Nancy Mairs, Zach Norris, Danielle Ofri, Sonia Sanchez, Ntozake Shange, Cornel West, and Howard Zinn.

Atwan has also stewarded Beacon’s backlist titles, including James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. ​Under Atwan Beacon also began publishing books in e-book format in 1999 and established an audio publishing program in 2015.

Under her leadership, Beacon has established key publishing initiatives, including the launch of a young adult publishing program and an agreement with the estate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to curate, publish, and promote 14 of his works in the King Legacy program.

Atwan was also involved with many industry associations. From 1998 to 2002 she was a member of the board of directors of the National Coalition Against Censorship and she served on PEN New England’s executive board from 1999 to 2009. Atwan also recently concluded her tenure as the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award administrator, a position she had held since 2003.

The new director of Beacon Press is expected to be named in April.