Robert Giroux, Publisher

Robert Giroux, who helped build one of the most important publishing houses of the 20th Century, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, died in his sleep yesterday morning at an assisted living facility in Tinton Falls, NJ. He was 94. The legends that he published amount to a stunningly daunting list that includes T.S. Eliot, Flannery O'Connor, Seamus Heany, Bernard Malamud, Jack Kerouac, Susan Sontag, and George Orwell."'The single most important thing to happen to this company was the arrival of Bob Giroux,' [Roger] Straus, who died in 2004, once said."

Giroux joined Farrar as editor in chief [in 1955] and was made a full partner in 1964, his reserved demeanor in contrast to the company's boisterous founder and president, Roger Straus. Straus and Giroux thrived together even as they endlessly complained about each other, with Straus regarding Giroux as a snob, and Giroux looking upon Straus as more a businessman than a man of letters.

During Giroux's 60-year career, some of the world's most celebrated writers published works for FSG, including Nobel Prize winners Isaac Bashevis Singer, Derek Walcott, Nadine Gordimer and Seamus Heaney. Authors were known to turn down more money from competitors for the privilege of being signed on by Farrar, Straus [...]

Able to work with relative freedom, Giroux was still a strong critic of contemporary publishing, which he believed had become too money-minded. "Editors used to be known by their authors," he observed in a 1981 lecture. "Now some of them are known by their restaurants."

Among the debut novels he worked on were Malamud's "The Natural," Jack Kerouac's "The Town and the City" and O'Connor's "Wise Blood." Giroux also edited Susan Sontag, Robert Lowell and Hannah Arendt.

But Giroux did miss out at least twice. In the early 1950s, a young writer ("very tall, dark-haired, had a horse face") arrived unannounced to the Harcourt offices with a novel about a disenchanted prep school student. Giroux was immediately interested, but a Harcourt executive overruled him, saying the publisher's textbook department had read the book and passed on it, thus rejecting J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye."

Around the same time, another young writer appeared at Harcourt, carrying what Giroux would remember as "rubbery sheets, ... teletype sheets pasted together." The author unfurled the scroll on the floor, revealing a story that ran more than 100 feet long, in a continuous paragraph.

When Giroux complained he couldn't possibly edit such a work, the writer called him a "crass idiot," rolled up his goods and hurried out.

So departed Kerouac and his manuscript for "On the Road." [HuffPo]