Roger W. Straus, who founded Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1946 and headed it until 2002, helping to make it one of the preeminent literary publishers in the world, died May 25 in Lenox Hill Hospital of pneumonia as a complication of a heart condition. He was 87.
Straus, who became chairman of the company at the beginning of 2002, ceding its leadership to then editor-in-chief Jonathan Galassi, was the last of the individual publishers whose firm bore their names and whose taste helped form the list. Each fall, at the Frankfurt Book Fair at which he was always a prominent attendee, he was eager to see who had won the latest Nobel Prize for Literature; as often as not, it was a FSG author, for, unusually among American publishers, Straus was interested in publishing notable writers from around the world, as well as poetry, essays and belles-lettres.
Born in New York in 1917, Straus was briefly a newspaper reporter and editor (he had a journalism degree from the University of Missouri) before serving in the Navy in World War II. Immediately after the war he joined with John Farrar to found the company (Robert Giroux became a partner later) and embarked on a program of enterprising literary publishing that continued to be much admired as most book publishing in the U.S. was taken over by corporate conglomerates. Straus eventually yielded to the inevitable and agreed to join Germany's vast Von Holtzbrinck Group in 1994, but only on his own terms.
Under his leadership, FSG not only flourished as a literary publisher but did well with such commercially successful authors as Tom Wolfe and Scott Turow. The company also did some expanding of its own, acquiring Boston's L.C. Page in 1957, Noonday Press in 1960, Hill & Wang in 1971, North Point Press in 1992 and the American branch of Faber & Faber in 1998.
Straus cut a flamboyant figure in the publishing world, more akin to the swashbuckling book magnates of the 1920s and '30s than the more sedate businessmen of today. He loved fine food and wines, dressed elegantly, was equally at home in London or Paris as in New York, had a witty (and sometimes spiteful and frequently profane) tongue, and liked to cultivate well-publicized rivalries with other publishers—though he seldom took them as seriously as they did. Although the closing years of his life were marred by ill health, and in the last year he was in and out of the hospital frequently, he remained keenly interested in the business and made his last visit to his famously shabby offices on Union Square only a few weeks before his death.
His marriage to Dorothea Lieberman produced a son, Roger Straus III, who he once hoped would succeed him at FSG, but who, after an apprenticeship under his father, eventually left the business.
Straus was enormously active in a range of cultural activities, serving at various times on the boards of Partisan Review, the University of Missouri Press, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, PEN and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2001 he received the Authors Guild Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community as well as the Curtis Benjamin Award for Creative Publishing from the AAP.
A memorial service will be held later this year, on a date to be announced.