Robert Giroux - Career


Giroux started his career with a job with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in public relations, here after working for four years, he found his first editing job as a junior editor, at Harcourt, Brace & Company in 1940. Here amongst his first works was Edmund Wilson's work on 19th-century socialist thinkers, To the Finland Station (1940), which was to become a classic.

During World War II Giroux enlisted in the US Navy in 1942, and served aboard the USS Essex in air combat intelligence as an intelligence officer, until 1945, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

After leaving the Navy, he took his article about the rescue of a fighter pilot downed at the Battle of Truk Lagoon in the Pacific, to a Navy public information 0ffice in New York, here officer in charge, Lt. Roger W. Straus Jr. suggested that he could get him $1,000 by selling it to a mass publication, hence "Rescue at Truk" ran in Collier's magazine and was later widely anthologized. He published an article about the "Capture at Turk" which made the cover of Life Magazine.

In 1948, he rejoined Harcourt, where he became executive editor, and worked the supervision of Frank Morley, a former director of Faber & Faber. He published many novels rejected by other publishers, such as Bernard Malamud's The Natural (1952), Kerouac's The Town and the City (1950) and O'Connor's Wise Blood (1952), and also worked on Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk's famous autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948).

Soon he became adept to finding new authors, and one of his first finds was the novelist and short-story writer Jean Stafford, who in turn introduced him to her husband, Robert Lowell, who was trying to find a publisher for his second book of poems. Impressed by Lowell's manuscript, Giroux published the collection Lord Weary's Castle immediately, and it went on to win the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In a PBS documentary on Lowell, Giroux states that it was the most successful book of poems that he ever published.

In 1947 Frank Morley left the company and returned to London, and a year later, Giroux was promoted to editor-in-chief, reporting to Eugene Reynal, an Ivy League scholar whom Brace had brought in to replace Morley, this development didn't turn out amicable for the two. As in an 2000 interview with George Plimpton in The Paris Review, he called Reynal tactless and a “terrible snob”.

From 1948 to 1955 Giroux continued to edit important works. By 1951, his reputation as America's foremost editor had attracted foreign writers, for example in 1951, he published Hannah Arendt's first book in English, The Origins of Totalitarianism. Indeed, of his seven Nobel prize winners, which included Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Yiddish writer, the St Lucia-born poet Derek Walcott, the English William Golding, Irish Seamus Heaney, South African writer, Nadine Gordimer and TS Eliot, only Eliot was American-born.

In the meantime, both Alfred Harcourt and Donald Brace died, and Giroux decided to move. Also in same interview, he revealed how as a young editor at Harcourt, Brace & Co., he won the opportunity to publish The Catcher in the Rye, the 1951 novel by J. D. Salinger, but lost it, after the textbook department, noted "Not for us," rejecting the manuscript. He soon started looking around and in 1955 he joined Farrar, Straus & Company as editor-in-chief, run by his fellow Second World War veterans John Farrar and Roger Straus. Subsequently almost 20 of his writers at Harcourt eventually followed him, including TS Eliot, Lowell, O’Connor and Malamud. In 1959, Malamud’s The Magic Barrel became FSG’s first National Book Award winner. Farrar, Straus & Company made him a partner in 1964, thus giving the company its new name, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG), and Robert Lowell's book of poems, For the Union Dead (1964) was the first book to bear his imprint. Ultimately in 1973, he became company's chairman.

In the coming years, among the writers Giroux discovered or developed were Jack Kerouac, John Berryman, Jean Stafford, Bernard Malamud, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Carl Sandburg, Elizabeth Bishop, Katherine Anne Porter, Walker Percy, Donald Barthelme, Grace Paley, Derek Walcott and William Golding. By 2000 FSG books had 29 literary awards, as well as a dozen the Pulitzer Prizes and 20 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Giroux worked with Kerouac on his first novel, The Town and the City (it was dedicated to him) and on the manuscript for his Beat classic On the Road. In a documentary interview, Giroux recalls how he tried to explain to Kerouac that the novel, typed out on a huge, single roll of paper, needed to be worked on, to which Kerouac replied solemnly: "There shall be no editing of this manuscript, this manuscript was dictated by the Holy Ghost."

Among the notable works he published as an editor were a collection of Berryman’s critical prose in The Freedom of the Poet (1976), Collected Prose of Robert Lowell (1987), Collected Prose of Elizabeth Bishop (1984), whose letters he later edited, as One Art (1994). He also authored books such as, The Education of an Editor, The Book Known as Q: A Consideration of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1982) and A Deed of Death (1990), an investigation of the 1922 murder of the Hollywood director, William Desmond Taylor.

His relationship with Straus was often strained: Giroux, more the literary man, was often at odds with Straus, who was primarily a businessman. Farrar, Straus & Giroux never published his 25th anniversary anthology, which he also edited, as Straus took offense to his portrayal in Giroux's introduction. Nonetheless, Giroux did not complete his memoirs because he said he did not want to write negatively about Straus. For his part, Straus counted Giroux's entry in his company as the significant event in its history. In another famous anecdote between Giroux and Eliot, once Giroux suggested to Eliot that editors were mostly failed writers, to which Eliot, "so are most writers".

From 1975 to 1982, he was president of the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, an organization that fights movie censorship.

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