Robert Giroux, Publisher, Dies at 94

posted 2008-09-05 23:16:42 by DaveM

Robert Giroux, an editor who introduced and nurtured some of the major authors of the 20th century and who rose to join one of the nation’s most distinguished publishing houses as a partner, making it Farrar, Straus & Giroux, died Friday in Tinton Falls, N.J. He was 94.

He died in his sleep at Seabrook Village, an independent-living facility, a niece, Kathleen Mulvehill, said.

If the flamboyant Roger Straus presented the public face of Farrar, Straus, Mr. Giroux, as editor-in-chief, was its quiet mover, working behind the scenes to shape its list of books and establishing himself as the gold standard of literary taste. The publisher Charles Scribner Jr., in his memoir, “In the Company of Writers: A Life in Publishing” (1991), wrote, “Giroux is a great man of letters, a great editor, and a great publisher.”

He was originally attracted to editing while a student at Columbia University, when he took an honors seminar with Raymond Weaver. “Weaver was the first biographer of Herman Melville, and the first person to read the manuscript of ‘Billy Budd,’ in 1919,” Mr. Giroux told the poet Donald Hall in a an interview for The New York Times Book Review in 1980. “This left a mark on me. I thought, ‘Imagine discovering a literary masterpiece.’ “

How many masterpieces Mr. Giroux discovered will be for the future to decide. As he himself insisted, it can take decades for a book to become a classic. Still, one of the first books he edited is now on any list of the century’s best, Edmund Wilson’s work on 19th-century socialist thinkers, “To the Finland Station” (1940); Mr. Giroux judged the manuscript to be nearly flawless.

He was also T. S. Eliot’s American editor and published the American edition of George Orwell’s “1984,” accepting it at once despite the objection of his immediate superior, whose wife had found some of the novel’s passages distasteful.

Mr. Giroux introduced a long roster of writers who would achieve fame, publishing first books by, among others, Jean Stafford, Robert Lowell, Bernard Malamud, Flannery O’Connor, Randall Jarrell, Peter Taylor, William Gaddis, Jack Kerouac and Susan Sontag. He edited Virginia Woolf, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Carl Sandburg, Elizabeth Bishop, Katherine Anne Porter, Walker Percy, Donald Barthelme, Grace Paley, Derek Walcott, Louise Bogan and William Golding.

In one episode he persuaded William Saroyan to transform “The Human Comedy” (1943) from a film script into a novel by suggesting that he simply remove the camera directions from the manuscript. The novel sold well and became a book-club selection.

But to his lasting chagrin, Mr. Giroux also saw two major works slip from his grasp, J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”