In one of its first major moves after being acquired by private equity firm KKR last summer, Simon & Schuster made a splash: the publisher tapped longtime Little, Brown editor-in-chief Judy Clain to lead the relaunch of Summit Books, the once-venerable imprint that had been shuttered for more than three decades. So it was big news when Summit announced its first acquisition in late February—a debut novel titled Great Black Hope, by a young New York University MFA grad named Rob Franklin.

Summit said the novel, which will be edited by executive editor Laura Perciasepe (whom Summit recently hired away from Riverhead), explores themes of “race, class, addiction, and the criminal justice system.” It follows a young Black man as he navigates the mysterious death of a close friend and his own arrest against the backdrop of East Coast privilege.

“Rob and his debut are exactly what we have been looking for,” Clain told PW, citing the author’s “singularly fresh voice” and the “urgency” of the subject matter he is tackling. “We want to publish writers whose stories will have an impact, that will have something to say about the world.”

For his part, Franklin said he came to writing fiction through poetry, and pointed to other poets-turned-novelists as formative influences, including Ocean Vuong and Ben Lerner. The poetry of Richard Siken was particularly important to him. “Fifteen years later, and I still hear echoes of his voice in my work,” he said. In Great Black Hope, he also looked to the work of Teju Cole and Katie Kitamura (who praised Franklin’s novel as “an exceptional debut”) for inspiration.

“It seemed to me that writing about how this character—an upwardly mobile but downwardly spiraling Black man in his 20s—navigating the narratives placed upon him in court and in recovery rooms was a microcosmic way to look at larger concerns,” Franklin said. “Society’s fraught relationship to Black achievement, the public vs. private self, and how our intimate relationships are always burdened by the systems in which they exist.”

Franklin said he understands that as the relaunched Summit’s first acquisition, Great Black Hope sets the tone for the imprint’s editorial direction. “Of course that prospect is somewhat daunting,” he conceded. “But, more than that, it thrills me.”

It seemed to me that writing about how this character—an upwardly mobile but downwardly spiraling Black man in his 20s... was a microcosmic way to look at larger concerns.

First launched in 1976, Summit Books was active until 1991, when its founder—the highly respected editor James H. Silberman—was ousted by S&S in a cost-cutting move. Over its 15-year history, the imprint had published a host of bestselling, influential books, including Betty Friedan’s The Second Stage, Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room, Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings, Fay Welden’s Praxis, and Elie Wiesel’s The Testament.

In its new incarnation, the imprint plans to publish some 20 titles per year—and, with Clain at the helm, aims to pick up where Silberman left off. “In its revival for a 21st-century audience, we hope to give readers an expansive view of the world and find new generations of writers who will change it,” Clain said, praising the imprint’s “illustrious” history of publishing literary luminaries. “Our dream is to publish a range of literary voices, including international writers,” she added, noting Summit’s mission statement: “Read the World.”

Clain is certainly suited to the mission. In her time at Little, Brown, she published a diverse list of bestselling, award-winning authors, including Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies; Katie Couric’s Going There; Elin Hilderbrand’s The Five-Star Weekend; Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette; and Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala. In a statement announcing her appointment, S&S CEO Jonathan Karp called Clain “one of the most highly esteemed and successful editorial leaders” in publishing today.

With its first acquisition now in place, the revived Summit is off and running—and Franklin looks forward to being part of Summit’s next chapter. “A writer friend of mine, when he heard I was going out on submission, gave me the advice to ‘follow the excitement.’ And from the moment I sat down with the Summit team, their passion for books in general and for mine in particular was palpable,” he said. “It’s an immense opportunity to grow with an imprint over the course of my career.”