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September 12: Alfred A. Knopf

September 12, 2013

02f/37/arod/15331/P2777063Alfred Abraham Knopf, Sr. the founder of one of America’s most prestigious publishing houses, was born in New York on this date in 1892. He is said to have been the first Jew to work at Doubleday in 1912, and by 1915 he and his wife-to-be Blanche launched their own publishing house, which produced handsome, quality books and specialized in Russian and European writers, many of whom were neglected in the U.S. Knopf became the publisher of such European luminaries as Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster, Sigmund Freud, André Gide, Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann, W. Somerset Maugham, and Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as American writers James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Theodore Dreiser, Dashiell Hammett, Langston Hughes, H.L. Mencken, and John Updike, among many others. Among the writers Knopf rejected were Sylvia Plath, Jack Kerouac, Anne Frank, George Orwell, Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Anaïs Nin. Knopf was a lifelong Republican until the Watergate affair, and a man of conservative tastes in literature and in life. By the time of his death in 1984, Knopf authors had been awarded 16 Nobel Prizes and 27 Pulitzers.

“I think that best-seller lists ought to be abolished by law. They’re just another example of running with the crowd.”—Alfred A. Knopf, Sr.