Friday, November 2, 2012

No Bluffing Bob

Recently in this blog I have been featuring people who influenced Flannery O'Connor or encouraged her in her art.  Today, I would like to profile her editor, Robert Giroux. There is so much one could say about him.  He was loved and respected by virtually all who knew him.  Some time after Giroux's death in 2008, I read a piece by a young woman who had been an intern at Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux.  She was hardly someone the publisher of the likes of T.S. Eliot, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn would notice, much less speak to.  Yet, she shared her memories about how Giroux encouraged and inspired her in the publishing business.  When this woman was offered an editorial position with another firm, she was torn because she didn't want to leave FSG.  She talked to Giroux about her dilemma, and he encouraged her to take the opportunity.  Her story is not unique.  Giroux had a real eye for talent, and when he noticed it he was the best editor a writer could hope to have.  Perhaps this is one reason O'Connor decided to leave her first publisher, Rinehart, and go with Giroux who was then at Harcourt Brace.  Giroux had an uncanny ability to recognize a true writer after just one meeting.  Such was the case when he met Flannery.  He knew right away she was not only a competent writer, but one of a very high order.  He was also impressed that she seemed to know what she wanted to do in her fiction. In an interview done near the end of his life, Giroux said "Good writers, I mean, people who are going to be successful, know what they want to do.  They're not confused or wondering about this or that or irrelevant decisions - it's life with a target.  And she [O'Connor] had that quality.  And  you also knew that if she started a job, she'd finish it.  It was competence, the sort that's unexpected." (At Home with Flannery O'Connor: An Oral History, p.86).  Giroux knew that Flannery was the real deal.  There was no"bluff" with her.  Nor was there with  him.  During Giroux's memorial service at the Columbia University chapel four years ago, Paul Elie, an editor at FSG, remarked, "It is tempting to float an analogy between his death and the death of a certain kind of publishing. But the fact is that his kind of publishing was rare in his own time, and so was he."
- Mark

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