HOME

TheInfoList




Alfred Abraham Knopf Sr. (September 12, 1892 August 11, 1984) was an American
publisher Publishing is the activity of making information, literature, music, software and other content available to the public for sale or for free. Traditionally, the term refers to the creation and distribution of printed works, such as book A ...

publisher
of the 20th century, and founder of
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. () is an American publishing house that was founded by Alfred A. Knopf Sr. and Blanche Knopf in 1915. Blanche and Alfred traveled abroad regularly and were known for publishing European, Asian, and Latin American writers i ...

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
His contemporaries included the likes of
Bennett Cerf Bennett Alfred Cerf (May 25, 1898 – August 27, 1971) was an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of America ...

Bennett Cerf
and
Donald Klopfer Donald Simon Klopfer (January 23, 1902 – May 30, 1986) was an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of America ...
, and (of the previous generation)
Frank Nelson Doubleday Frank Nelson Doubleday (January 8, 1862 – January 30, 1934), known to friends and family as “Effendi” (spelling out his initials "F.N.D." but also a play on the Ottoman term of respect), founded the Doubleday (publisher), Doubleday & McCl ...
, J. Henry Harper and Henry Holt. Knopf paid special attention to the quality of printing, binding, and design in his books, and earned a reputation as a purist in both content and presentation.


Biography

Knopf was born into a
Jew Jews ( he, יְהוּדִים ISO 259-2 ISO The International Organization for Standardization (ISO ) is an international standard An international standard is a technical standard A technical standard is an established norm (social), ...

Jew
ish family in New York City. His father, Samuel Knopf, was an advertising executive and financial consultant, his mother was Ida Japhe, a school teacher. Samuel Knopf was originally from Warsaw, Poland, but came to New York with his parents, where he worked his way up the directorship at a small mercantile bank. Alfred's mother, Ida, was from a Latvian Jewish family who settled in New York. For a time Knopf's parents lived in the
Midwest The Midwestern United States, also referred to as the Midwest or the American Midwest, is one of four Census Bureau Region, census regions of the United States Census Bureau (also known as "Region 2"). It occupies the northern central part of ...
and in
Virginia Virginia (), officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), '' ...

Virginia
. Ida committed suicide when Alfred was five years old and his sister Sophia was almost two. That same day, Alfred's father had filed for divorce in which he named Ida as an adulteress. His father later married Lillian Harris, who had a daughter, Bertha, from a previous marriage. With Lillian, Samuel had another son, Edwin H. Knopf, who worked for Alfred briefly, then became a
film director A film director controls a film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of applying paint Paint i ...
and
producer Producer or producers may refer to: Occupations *Producer (agriculture), a farm operator *Film producer, oversees the making of films *A stakeholder of economic production *Executive producer, contributes to the film's budget and usually does not w ...
. Alfred attended
Columbia University Columbia University (also known as Columbia, and officially as Columbia University in the City of New York) is a Private university, private Ivy League research university in New York City. Established in 1754 as King's College on the grounds of ...

Columbia University
, where he was a pre-law student and a member of the
Peithologian SocietyThe Peithologian Society was an undergraduate debate society at Columbia University. It was founded in 1806, four years after Columbia's first literary society, the Philolexian Society, by freshmen who were disenfranchised by Philolexian's requiremen ...
(a debating and literary club) and the
Boar's Head Society The Boar's Head Society (1910 – 1970s) was a student ''conversazione society'' devoted to poetry at Columbia University. It was an "adjunct to Columbia College's Philolexian Society... The purpose of their new society was entirely creative: re ...
. He began to show an interest in publishing during his senior year, becoming advertising manager of an undergraduate magazine. His interest in publishing was allegedly fostered by a correspondence with British author
John Galsworthy John Galsworthy (; 14 August 1867 – 31 January 1933) was an English novelist and playwright. Notable works include ''The Forsyte Saga'' (1906–1921) and its sequels, ''A Modern Comedy'' and ''End of the Chapter''. He won the Nobel Prize in ...

John Galsworthy
. Galsworthy was the subject of Knopf's senior thesis and after visiting Galsworthy in
England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwest of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. E ...

England
, Knopf gave up his plans for a law career, and upon his return went into publishing. Knopf was introduced to his future wife and business partner,
Blanche Knopf Blanche Wolf Knopf (July 30, 1894 – June 4, 1966) was the president of Alfred A. Knopf, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and wife of publisher Alfred A. Knopf Sr., with whom she established the firm in 1915. Blanche traveled the world seeking new authors an ...
, at a party at the Lawrence Athletic Club in 1911. Their relationship was built on their mutual interest in books. Blanche said of their relationship, "Alfred had realized I read books constantly and he had never met a girl who did ... I saw him and ll we did wastalk books, and nobody liked him--my family least of all. But I did, because I had someone to talk books to and we talked of making books...We decided we would get married and make books and publish them." Alfred and Blanche were married on April 4, 1916. Knopf worked as a clerk at Doubleday (1912–1913), then as an editorial assistant to
Mitchell Kennerley Mitchell Kennerley (August 14, 1878 – February 22, 1950) was an English born American publisher, editor, and gallery owner. Life He was born at Burslem, England. He was the Management, manager of the New York City, New York branch of John Lane ...
(1914). Knopf, along with Blanche Knopf, founded the publishing house in 1915. The company initially emphasized European, especially Russian, literature, hence the choice of the
borzoi The Borzoi (borzaya, meaning sighthound), also called the Russian Hunting Sighthound (russian: ру́сская псовая борзая, russkaya psovaya borzaya 'Russian long-haired sighthound'), is a sighthound hunting dog breed, breed of ...

borzoi
as a
colophon Colophon may refer to: * Colophon (city) in ancient Greece, located in modern Turkey * Colophon (beetle), ''Colophon'' (beetle), a genus of stag beetle Books and Publishing * Colophon (publishing), a brief description of the manuscript or book t ...
. At that time European literature was largely neglected by American publishers; Knopf published authors such as
Simone de Beauvoir Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir (, ; ; 9 January 1908 – 14 April 1986) was a French writer, intellectual An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking Critical thinking is the analysis of facts to fo ...

Simone de Beauvoir
,
Albert Camus Albert Camus ( , ; ; 7 November 1913 – 4 January 1960) was a French philosopher, author, and journalist. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature ) , image = Nobel Prize.png , caption = , awarded_for = Outstanding contributions in ...

Albert Camus
,
Joseph Conrad Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, ; 3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) was a Polish-British writer regarded as one of the greatest novelists to write in the English language. Though he did not speak English fluently u ...

Joseph Conrad
, E. M. Forster,
Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud ( , ; born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was an Austrian neurologist Neurology (from el, νεῦρον (neûron), "string, nerve" and the suffix -logia, "study of") is a branch of medicine M ...

Sigmund Freud
,
André Gide André Paul Guillaume Gide (; 22 November 1869 – 19 February 1951) was a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (in 1947). Gide's career ranged from its beginnings in the Symbolism (arts), symbolist movement, to the advent ...

André Gide
,
Franz Kafka Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was a German-speaking The German language (, ) is a West Germanic language mainly spoken in Central Europe Central Europe is the central region of Europe. Central Europe includes contigu ...
,
D. H. Lawrence David Herbert Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) was an English writer and poet A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer ...
,
Thomas Mann Paul Thomas Mann ( , ; ; 6 June 1875 – 12 August 1955) was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and the 1929 Nobel Prize in Literature ) , image = Nobel Prize.png , caption = , awarded_ ...
, W. Somerset Maugham, T.F Powys,
Wyndham Lewis Percy Wyndham Lewis (18 November 1882 – 7 March 1957) was an English writer, painter, and critic. He was a co-founder of the Vorticist movement in art and edited '' BLAST,'' the literary magazine of the Vorticists. His novels include ''Tarr' ...
and
Jean-Paul Sartre Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (, ; ; 21 June 1905 – 15 April 1980) was a French philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as tho ...

Jean-Paul Sartre
. While Blanche was known to as a superb editor, Alfred was always interested in more of the sales side than in editing. Knopf also published many American authors, including
Conrad Aiken Conrad Potter Aiken (August 5, 1889 – August 17, 1973) was an American writer and poet, honored with a Pulitzer Prize The Pulitzer Prize () is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature and musical com ...

Conrad Aiken
,
James Baldwin James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an American novelist A novelist is an author or writer of novels, though often novelists also write in other genres of both fiction and non-fiction. Some novelists are professional n ...
, ,
Theodore Dreiser Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser (; August 27, 1871 – December 28, 1945) was an American novelist and journalist of the naturalist Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organism In biology, an organism () is any organi ...

Theodore Dreiser
,
Shirley Ann Grau Shirley Ann Grau (July 8, 1929August 3, 2020) was an American writer. She was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, New Orleans, and her work is set primarily in the Deep South and explores issues of race and gender. Early life Grau was born in New Orl ...
,
Dashiell Hammett Samuel Dashiell Hammett (; May 27, 1894 – January 10, 1961) was an American author of hard-boiled Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre that shares some of its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detectiv ...
,
Langston Hughes James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1901 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri Joplin is a city in Jasper Jasper, an aggregate of microgranular quartz ...

Langston Hughes
,
Vachel Lindsay Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (; November 10, 1879 – December 5, 1931) was an American poet A poet is a person who creates poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek language, Greek ''poiesis'', "making") is a form of literature that uses ae ...
,
H.L. Mencken Henry Louis Mencken (September 12, 1880 – January 29, 1956) was an American journalist, essayist, satirist, cultural critic, and scholar of American English. He commented widely on the social scene, literature, music, prominent politicians ...
,
George Jean Nathan George Jean Nathan (February 14, 1882 – April 8, 1958) was an American drama critic and magazine editor. He worked closely with H. L. Mencken, bringing the literary magazine ''The Smart Set'' to prominence as an editor, and co-founding and ...
,
John Updike John Hoyer Updike (March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009) was an American novelist, poet, short-story writer, art critic An art critic is a person who is specialized in analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating art. Their written critiques or reviews ...
, and Knopf's own favorite,
Willa Cather Willa Sibert Cather (; born Wilella Sibert Cather; December 7, 1873 – April 24, 1947) was an American writer known for her novels of life on the Great Plains The Great Plains (french: Grandes Plaines), sometimes simply "the Plains", is a ...
. From 1924 to 1934, he published the famous literary magazine founded by Mencken and Nathan, ''
The American Mercury ''The American Mercury'' was an American magazine A magazine is a periodical publication Periodical literature (also called a periodical publication or simply a periodical) is a category of serial Serial may refer to: Arts, entertainmen ...
''. He often developed a personal friendship with his authors. Knopf's personal interest in the fields of
history History (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approxima ...

history
,
sociology Sociology is a social science Social science is the branch The branches and leaves of a tree. A branch ( or , ) or tree branch (sometimes referred to in botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the scie ...
, and
science Science () is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge Knowledge is a familiarity or awareness, of someone or something, such as facts A fact is something that is truth, true. The usual test for a statement of ...

science
led to close friendships in the academic community with such noted historians as
Richard Hofstadter Richard Hofstadter (August 6, 1916October 24, 1970) was an American historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studies and ...
, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and
Samuel Eliot Morison Samuel Eliot Morison (July 9, 1887 – May 15, 1976) was an American historian noted for his works of maritime history and American history that were both authoritative and popular. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1912, and taug ...
. A prominent
Republican Republican can refer to: Political ideology * An advocate of a republic, a type of government that is not a monarchy or dictatorship, and is usually associated with the rule of law. ** Republicanism, the ideology in support of republics or against ...
until
Watergate The Watergate scandal was a major political scandal in the United States involving the administration Administration may refer to: Management of organizations * Management Management (or managing) is the administration of an organiz ...
, Knopf often drew legislators into lengthy correspondence by mail. He was also a member of the
Peabody Award The George Foster Peabody Awards (or simply Peabody Awards or the Peabodys) program, named for the American businessman and philanthropist George Foster Peabody, George Peabody, honor the most powerful, enlightening, and invigorating stories in ...
s Board of Jurors from 1940 to 1946. Knopf himself was also an author. His writings include ''Some Random Recollections'', ''Publishing Then and Now'', ''Portrait of a Publisher'', ''Blanche W. Knopf: July 30, 1894–June 4, 1966'', and ''Sixty Photographs''. When the Knopfs' son Alfred A. Knopf Jr. left the company in 1959 to found
Atheneum Publishers Atheneum Books was a New York City publishing house established in 1959 by Alfred A. Knopf, Jr., Simon Michael Bessie and Hiram Haydn. Simon & Schuster has owned Atheneum properties since its acquisition of Macmillan in 1994 and it created Atheneum ...
, Alfred and Blanche became concerned about the eventual fate of their publishing house, which had always been a family business. The problem was solved in 1960, when Knopf merged with
Random House Random House is an American book publisher and the largest general-interest paperback publisher in the world. The company has several independently managed subsidiaries around the world. It is part of Penguin Random House Penguin Random Hous ...

Random House
, which was owned by the Knopfs' close friends
Bennett Cerf Bennett Alfred Cerf (May 25, 1898 – August 27, 1971) was an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of America ...

Bennett Cerf
and Donald Klopfer. Knopf retained complete editorial control for five years, and then gave up only his right to veto other editors' manuscript selections. The editorial departments of the two companies remain separate, and Knopf, Inc., retains its distinctive character. Knopf called the merger "a perfect marriage." Random House itself eventually became a division of
Bertelsmann AG Bertelsmann is a German private multinational conglomerate corporation A corporation is an organization—usually a group of people or a company—authorized by the state to act as a single entity (a legal entity recognized by private ...
, a large multinational media company. The Knopf imprint remains in existence.
Blanche Knopf Blanche Wolf Knopf (July 30, 1894 – June 4, 1966) was the president of Alfred A. Knopf, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and wife of publisher Alfred A. Knopf Sr., with whom she established the firm in 1915. Blanche traveled the world seeking new authors an ...
died in June 1966. Alfred remarried in April of the following year, to Helen Norcross Hedrick. He died of
congestive heart failure Heart failure (HF), also known as congestive heart failure (CHF) and (congestive) cardiac failure (CCF), is a set of manifestations caused by the failure of the heart The heart is a cardiac muscle, muscular Organ (biology), organ in mos ...
on August 11, 1984, at his estate in
Purchase, New York Purchase is a Hamlet (New York), hamlet in the town and village of Harrison, New York, Harrison, in Westchester County, New York, United States. One myth explains that its name is derived from Harrison's purchase, where John Harrison was to be gr ...
.


Personality

Knopf had little enthusiasm for most of the changes that took place in the publishing industry during his lifetime. "Too many books are published, and they are overpriced", he told '' The Saturday Review''. These are things "about which all publishers agree, and about which no publisher does anything." The most fundamental change he noted was the increased importance of the editor. "In the early days, things were quite simple. The books came in; we published them as written... A publisher was regarded and so, in turn, was the writer as a pro. A writer's job was to write a book and give it to you." And he remarked to Shenker: "I guess business became more complicated and publishers less literate. It ceased to be the fact that publishers publish and authors write. Today authors submit manuscripts and editors write books." The editor is now hired largely to acquire books, "and if he can't get good books, he usually takes what he can get books that are not so good. And then he sometimes wrecks himself trying to make a silk purse out of what can never become anything but a sow's ear." Knopf was generally unimpressed with current
literature Literature broadly is any collection of written Writing is a medium of human communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share") is the act of developing Semantics, meaning among Subject (philosophy), entitie ...

literature
, though he admired
John Hersey John Richard Hersey (June 17, 1914 – March 24, 1993) was an American writer and journalist. He is considered one of the earliest practitioners of the so-called New Journalism New Journalism is a style of news writing and journalism, de ...

John Hersey
,
John Updike John Hoyer Updike (March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009) was an American novelist, poet, short-story writer, art critic An art critic is a person who is specialized in analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating art. Their written critiques or reviews ...
,
Jorge Amado Jorge Leal Amado de Faria (10 August 1912 – 6 August 2001) was a Brazilian writer of the Modernism, modernist school. He remains the best known of modern Brazilian writers, with his work having been translated into some 49 languages and popul ...
, and a few other contemporary authors. In ''Publishing Then and Now'' he wrote: "Frequently... our American author, whatever his age, experience in life, and technical knowledge, simply can't write. I don't mean that he is not the master of a prose style of elegance and distinction; I mean that he can't write simple straightforward and correct English. And here, only an exceptional editor will really help him." American authors are not very durable, he said in 1964, and "there are no giants in Europe now." Though twelve Knopf authors had won
Nobel Prize The Nobel Prizes ( ; sv, Nobelpriset ; no, Nobelprisen ) are five separate prizes that, according to Alfred Nobel Alfred Bernhard Nobel ( , ; 21 October 1833 – 10 December 1896) was a Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, busines ...
s, Knopf acknowledged that "some Nobel Prize books aren't very good," calling ''
Doctor Zhivago''Doctor Zhivago'' is the title of a Doctor Zhivago (novel), novel by Boris Pasternak and its various adaptations. Description The story, in all of its forms, describes the life of the fictional Russian physician and poet Yuri Zhivago and deals with ...
,'' for example, "incredibly tedious ... If Krushchev had banned it for dullness instead of its political implications, he might have been in the clear." Among other authors he rejected were
Sylvia Plath Sylvia Plath (; October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. She is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for two of her published collections, ''The ...

Sylvia Plath
,
Jack Kerouac Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac (; March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969), known as Jack Kerouac, was an American novelist and poet of French Canadians, French Canadian ancestry, who, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, was a pioneer o ...

Jack Kerouac
,
Anne Frank Annelies Marie "Anne" Frank (, ; 12 June 1929 – February or March 1945)Research by The Anne Frank House in 2015 revealed that Frank may have died in February 1945 rather than in March, as Dutch authorities had long assumed"New research shed ...

Anne Frank
,
George Orwell Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950) known by his pen name A pen name, also called a ''nom de plume'' () or a literary double, is a pseudonym (or, in some cases, a variant form of a real name) adopted by an author and printed ...

George Orwell
,
Jorge Luis Borges Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo (; ; 24 August 1899 – 14 June 1986) was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, and a key figure in Spanish literature, Spanish-language and international literature. His ...

Jorge Luis Borges
,
Vladimir Nabokov Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (russian: link=no, Влади́мир Влади́мирович Набо́ков ; 2 July 1977), also known by the pen name A pen name, also called a ''nom de plume'' () or a literary double, is a pseudonym ...
,
Isaac Bashevis Singer Isaac Bashevis Singer ( yi, יצחק באַשעװיס זינגער; November 11, 1903 – July 24, 1991) was a Polish Polish may refer to: * Anything from or related to Poland Poland ( pl, Polska ), officially the Republic of Poland ...

Isaac Bashevis Singer
and
Anaïs Nin Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell (February 21, 1903 – January 14, 1977), known professionally as Anaïs Nin (; ), was a French- Cuban-American diarist, essayist, novelist and writer of short stories and erotica. Born to ...

Anaïs Nin
. He turned down an early novel by Ursula K. Le Guin but encouraged her to keep writing. Knopf also lamented the "shockingly bad taste" that he felt characterizes much modern fiction, and warned of the danger of a "legal backlash" against pornography, and a possible revival of
censorship Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information. This may be done on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or "inconvenient". Censorship can be conducted by governments ...

censorship
. This outspoken aspect of his character sometimes found voice in letters of complaint to hotels, restaurants, and stores that failed to meet his high standards. These letters grew increasingly frequent and more severe as he aged. One striking example is the six-year-long war of words he waged against the
Eastman Kodak Company The Eastman Kodak Company (referred to simply as Kodak ) is an American public company that produces various products related to its historic basis in analogue photography. The company is headquartered in Rochester, New York Rochester ( ...
over a roll of lost film.


Bibliography

* John Tebbel, ''A History of Book Publishing in the United States,'' Volume II: The Creation of an Industry, 1865–1919 (1975); Volume III: The Golden Age Between Two Wars, 1920–1940 (1978); * Bennett Cerf, ''At Random, Random House,'' 1977; * Alfred A. Knopf, ''Some Random Recollections,'' Typophiles, 1949; ''Publishing Then and Now,'' New York Public Library, 1964; ''Portrait of a Publisher,'' Typophiles, 1965; * ''New Yorker'', November 20, 1948, November 27, 1948, December 4, 1948; * ''Saturday Review'', August 29, 1964, November 29, 1975; * ''Publishers Weekly'', January 25, 1965, February 1, 1965, May 19, 1975; * ''Current Biography'', Wilson, 1966; * ''New York Times'', September 12, 1972, September 12, 1977; * ''New York Times Book Review'', February 24, 1974; * ''Saturday Review/World'', August 10, 1974; * ''W'', October 31-November 7, 1975; * ''Los Angeles Times'', August 12, 1984; * ''New York Times'', August 12, 1984; * ''Chicago Tribune'', August 13, 1984; * ''Newsweek'', August 20, 1984; * ''Time'', August 20, 1984.


References


External links


Alfred A. Knopf archive at the University of Texas AustinTumblr page for Knopf
{{DEFAULTSORT:Knopf, Alfred A. Sr. 1892 births 1984 deaths AIGA medalists American book publishers (people) American people of Polish-Jewish descent Columbia College (New York) alumni New York (state) Republicans People from Purchase, New York Knopf family