Tribute to André Schiffrin
(from the Fall 2014 Catalog)

Fall 2014 Catalog CoverAnyone who worked for André Schiffrin will remember his Dictaphone. One of the last giants of a pre-Internet—indeed pre-computer—era, André was known for his long, thoughtful letters to authors and potential authors, publishers, literary agents, scouts, and friends across the United States and much of the rest of the world. These were dictated into a handheld recorder by André as he walked through Central Park every morning on his way to the Pantheon—and later The New Press—offices. A small microcassette was deposited a couple of times a week on the desk of his reigning assistant. Using a conservative estimate—half a dozen letters three times a week over several decades—his correspondence runs to some 25,000 missives, which are in the process of being transferred to Columbia University Libraries’ publishing archive.

André Schiffrin’s correspondence offers a rich picture of late twentieth-century book publishing, as practiced by an editor with radically new ideas about what the world needed to read and radically old ideas about the way the industry ought to work. Genteel exchanges with Gustaf Bjurström, the erudite Swedish scout who sent decades’ worth of readers reports on the latest books from the Continent (and flagged Henning Mankell as worth translating), alternate with letters written to authors for whom André had ideas for new projects—as well as agents whom André perceived to be sacrificing long-standing relationships for eye-popping advances offered by the new conglomerates beginning to dominate the industry. The depth of André’s intellect is on vivid display as he corresponds with the likes of E.P. Thompson, Marguerite Duras, Edward Said, Sissela Bok, Hans Magnus Ensenzberger, Willie Brandt, Barbara Ehrenreich, Noam Chomsky, Eric Hobsbawm, and, of course, Studs Terkel.

After a half-century of dictation, André was mastering Internet communication by the time of his death in December 2013. We are all grateful that he was not an early adopter.

Remembering André Schiffrin (June 14, 1935–December 1, 2013)