LifeSchiffrin was born in Paris, the son of Jacques Schiffrin, a Russian Jew who emigrated to France and briefly enjoyed success there as publisher of the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, which he founded, and which was bought by Gallimard, until he was dismissed because of the anti-Jewish laws enforced by the Vichy regime. Jacques Schiffrin and his family had to flee and eventually found refuge in the United States. As the younger Schiffrin recalls in his autobiography, A Political Education: Coming of Age in Paris and New York (2007), he thus experienced life in two countries as a child of a European Jewish intellectual family.
As an anti-Communist socialist, Schiffrin opposed both the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the U.S. war in Vietnam. He was one of the founders of the organization that became Students for a Democratic Society. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.
Schiffrin was the managing director of publishing at Pantheon Books, where he was partially responsible for introducing the works of Pasternak, Foucault and others to American readers. Schiffrin's 28 year period at Pantheon, a division of Random House, came to an end in 1990 when CEO Alberto Vitale sacked him because of a conflict over the division's losses and the downsizing which Vitale wished to make.
In 1992 Schiffrin, with former Pantheon colleague Diane Wachtell, established the non-profit The New Press, explaining that he did so because of economic trends that prevented him from publishing the serious books he thought should be made available. Schiffrin discussed what he regards as the crisis in western publishing in his book The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read (2000).
Schiffrin's daughter Anya is married to the economist and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. His daughter Natalia is married to international lawyer Philippe Sands.
Schiffrin died on 1 December 2013 in Paris from pancreatic cancer.
- L'édition sans éditeurs (1999) ISBN 2-913372-02-3
- The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read (2000) ISBN 1-85984-362-X (Hardback ISBN 1-85984-763-3)
- Le contrôle de la parole (2005) ISBN 2-913372-35-X
- A Political Education: Coming of Age in Paris and New York (Melville House Publishing, 2007) ISBN 1-933633-15-8
- L'argent et les mots (2010) ISBN 978-2-35872-006-9
- Words and Money (Verso Books, 2010) ISBN 978-1-84467-680-4
- Robert D. McFadden "André Schiffrin, Publishing Force and a Founder of New Press, Is Dead at 78", New York Times, 1 December 2013
- “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” 30 January 1968 New York Post
- The New Press
- Melville House
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- March 28, 2007 interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now discussing "A Political Education"
- Interview with David Barsamian September 2003
- "André Schiffrin in conversation with Williams Cole and Theodore Hamm" The Brooklyn Rail (March 2007)
- RealAudio interview WILL-AM Media Matters, March 18, 2007
- André Schiffrin discusses French and American politics on French radio, aired 19 April 2007 (RealAudio)
- Appearance on French radio to promote A Political Education, aired 1 May 2007 (RealAudio)
- French radio interview with Arnaud Laporte, aired 8 May 2007 (RealAudio)
- French radio interview with Frédéric Bonnaud, aired 8 May 2007 (RealAudio)
- Second appearance on French radio to promote A Political Education, aired 13 May 2007 (RealAudio)
The New York Times
December 1, 2013
André Schiffrin, Publishing Force and a Founder of New Press, Is Dead at 78
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN
André Schiffrin, a publishing force for 50 years, whose passion for editorial independence produced shelves of serious books, a titanic collision with a conglomerate that forced him out to stem losses, and a late-in-life comeback as a nonprofit publisher, died in Paris on Sunday. He was 78.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his daughter Natalia Schiffrin said.
The son of a distinguished Paris publisher who fled Nazi-occupied France during World War II, Mr. Schiffrin grew up in a socialist New York literary world and became one of America’s most influential men of letters. As editor in chief and managing director of Pantheon Books, a Random House imprint where making money was never the main point, he published novels and books of cultural, social and political significance by an international array of mostly highbrow, left-leaning authors.
Taking risks, running losses, resisting financial pressures and compromises, Mr. Schiffrin championed the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Günter Grass, Studs Terkel, Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir, Noam Chomsky, Julio Cortázar, Marguerite Duras, Roy Medvedev, Gunnar Myrdal, George Kennan, Anita Brookner, R. D. Laing and many others.
But in 1990, after 28 years at Pantheon, Mr. Schiffrin was fired by Alberto Vitale, the chief executive of Random House, in a dispute over chronic losses and Mr. Schiffrin’s refusal to accept cutbacks and other changes. His departure made headlines, prompted resignations by colleagues, led to a protest march joined by world-renowned authors, and reverberated across the publishing industry in articles and debates.
Many in publishing spoke against the dismissal, calling it an assault on American culture by Random House’s billionaire owner, S. I. Newhouse Jr., who was accused of blocking a channel for contrary voices in favor of lucrative self-help books and ghostwritten memoirs for the sake of the bottom line. Mr. Schiffrin was conspicuously silent, his severance package barring him for a time from discussing the issue publicly.
But Mr. Vitale and others in publishing called his dismissal an inevitable result of Pantheon’s losses, which Mr. Vitale said reached $3 million in Mr. Schiffrin’s final year, and his refusal to adjust his list to turn the imprint around. In an Op-Ed article in The New York Times, Erroll McDonald, Pantheon’s executive editor, disputed what he called the “sense of entitlement” by those protesting Mr. Schiffrin’s dismissal. He said Pantheon would continue to publish serious books.
The contretemps over cultural integrity versus business imperatives had been building for years. While Pantheon accounted for a small percentage of Random House’s revenues, it had always had a special place within the company. Bennett Cerf, a founder of Random House, regarded it as a vehicle for distinguished rather than lucrative books. But mounting losses in the 1980s had eroded the corporate magnanimity.
In 1992, Mr. Schiffrin and Diane Wachtell, a former Pantheon editor, founded the New Press as an independent, nonprofit publisher of books “in the public interest,” funded by major foundations. He likened it to public television and radio, a house to supplement university presses in publishing riskier books. The enterprise flourished, and Mr. Schiffrin, its editor in chief for more than a decade, remained as founding director and editor at large until his death.
The author of several books of his own, Mr. Schiffrin offered a gloomy assessment of publishing in his polemical memoir, “The Business of Books: How International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read” (2000).
“Books today have become mere adjuncts to the world of mass media, offering light entertainment and reassurances that all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds,” Mr. Schiffrin wrote. “The resulting control on the spread of ideas is stricter than anyone would have thought possible in a free society.”
André Schiffrin was born on June 14, 1935, in Paris to Jacques and Simone Heymann Schiffrin. His father, a Russian émigré, founded La Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, which published editions of the classics, and in 1941 fled from the Nazis with his family and settled in New York, where from 1943 until his death in 1950 he was editor and vice president of production at Pantheon Books.
André grew up in a multicultural household, immersed in languages and literature and a milieu of Jewish socialist intellectuals. He worked summer jobs at Pantheon, a prestigious house founded in 1942 by the German émigrés Kyrill S. Schabert and Kurt and Helen Wolff, and knew the book list “the same way another boy would know the stock of his father’s candy store,” a Book World profile said.
After graduating with high honors and a degree in history from Yale in 1957, Mr. Schiffrin studied at Clare College, Cambridge University, where he became the first American to edit Granta, then the school’s literary journal, and earned a master’s degree with highest honors in 1959.
In 1961, Mr. Schiffrin married Maria Elena de la Iglesia, known as Leina. Beside his wife and daughter Natalia, Mr. Schiffrin is survived by another daughter, Anya Schiffrin, a journalist married to the Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz; and three grandchildren.
In 1962 Mr. Schiffrin joined Pantheon, which had been bought by Random House a year earlier. He edited his first best seller, “The Tin Drum” by Mr. Grass, shortly after his arrival. He became editor in chief in 1963 and managing director in 1969, often subsidizing important works with profits from commercially successful books.
In 1980, after Random House was acquired by Mr. Newhouse’s Advance Publications, Pantheon and other Random House units came under increasing pressure to raise their profit margins. In 1990, Random House said Mr. Schiffrin was “asked to resign after he refused to reduce the number of titles published or to trim Pantheon’s 30-member staff.”
In the ensuing uproar, Pantheon authors and others called his ouster corporate censorship. E. L. Doctorow, accepting a National Book Critics Circle Award for “Billy Bathgate,” said of Random House, “Even if no censorship was intended by its application of its own bottom-line criteria to its Pantheon division, the effect is indeed to still a voice, to close a door against part of the American family.”
But scores of Random House editors and publishers defended the company, insisting that they too opposed corporate censorship and denying that they — or Pantheon — had been subjected to it. In a statement, they said, “We have preserved our independence and the independence of our authors by supporting the integrity of our publishing programs with fiscal responsibility.”
At the New Press, Mr. Schiffrin published best-selling fiction and books on race relations, civil rights, AIDS, black culture, history, economics, the environment, feminism and other subjects. He wrote for The Nation, The New Republic and European magazines and was the author of “A Political Education: Growing Up in Paris and New York” (2007) and “Words and Money” (2010), in addition to his memoir. Mr. Schiffrin taught at Princeton and the New School in New York. He served on the boards of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Council of the Smithsonian Institution and the New York Council on the Humanities. Since 2005, he and his wife divided their time between homes in Manhattan and Paris.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 1, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated André Schiffrin’s date of birth. It is June 14, 1935, not June 12.