It’s hard to point to an editor that has had a better run than Spiegel & Grau’s Chris Jackson. Among Jackson’s highlights in 2015, two titles he acquired took home major prizes: Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy won the ALA’s Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction in June, and last month Ta-Nehisi Coates’s bestseller Between the World and Me won the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction.
This spring, even before those two prizes were announced, Jackson was promoted to v-p and executive editor. “In recent months, we’ve watched with awe as Chris has had a run of books that have been acutely, urgently, brilliantly of our time,” publisher Julie Grau wrote in a staff memo announcing Jackson’s promotion. Jackson’s other hits include Jay Z’s Decoded, Blake Mycoskie’s bestseller Start Something That Matters, Warren St. John’s Outcasts United, Wes Moore’s bestselling The Other Wes Moore, Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia and The Divide, and Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside—the last of which was one of two New York Times Book Review front-page reviews in the first half of 2015. At a time when nonfiction book publishing is under increasing pressure from new media, Jackson’s success shows that good books remain at the heart of America’s cultural discourse. And in exploring issues of race, rising inequality, and political tension, the voices Jackson seeks out and publishes are ever-more crucial to that discussion. “Often, when talking about race and racism, we are talking about the issues but never getting anywhere new—we’re just chronically recycling information,” Jackson said in an interview this fall. “I only want to publish the good ones,” he added, citing Stevenson and Coates as writers whose work “advances our understanding” rather than just adding “more heat around already-hot” subjects.
“As an editor, Chris is driven by his personal passions and interests, a strong moral compass, and his vast and continually amazing frame of reference as a consumer and critic par excellence of our contemporary culture,” Grau observed. “He is our comrade in arms, a great, wry colleague, a mentor to the younger staff, and a friend.”