Writers Remember Editor Sonny Mehta: A Great Champion of Good Books

From a New York Times story “Sonny Mehta, Knopf Editor, Remembered by His Writers.”

Sonny Mehta, the Indian-born, Cambridge-educated editor who for more than 30 years presided over Alfred A. Knopf and the New York publishing scene with seemingly effortless grace and erudition, died on Monday at 77. Mehta published Nobelists and Pulitzer Prize winners as well as first-time authors, and here he is remembered by some of the writers whose careers he shaped.

I loved Sonny for his grace, his insouciance and his sly, quiet humor. . . .He loved the world and his loved ones, and was a great champion of good books in particular and of humane culture in general. The death of every noble man makes a slight, ignoble adjustment to the world. He would have wished us better times ahead. I shall miss him to the end. —John Banville

They used to warn you, before you first met Sonny Mehta, not to be intimidated by the silence. Don’t let it throw you off, my agent told me, he just doesn’t say much. Truth is, he didn’t have to. The best writing advice I’ve ever received came delivered from him in single sentences — simple yet deeply nuanced advice I would think about for months, each time arriving at the realization that what he suggested was exactly what the work needed. His gift, I think, was to read every manuscript twice at the same time — once for exactly what it was and once for everything it could be. —Omar El Akkad

What always struck me about him as a leader was how profoundly interested he was in the opinions of his editors, and what a good listener he was. So few people on his level listen as keenly — it was a truly rare quality; he had to draw something out of you. When you finally got into his office to discuss a book you might want to acquire, it was like time stopped: He looked up and gave this his full attention and was so unhurried in this conversation about whether a writer or project would belong to us and why. —Deborah Garrison

When he was honored at the Center for Fiction gala last year, Sonny abandoned the taciturn habits of a lifetime and spoke at great length, and with deep emotion, about his life in books. All of us who heard him that day were greatly moved, partly because it was such a shock to hear him speak so openly — and so much! — and partly, I think, because we feared it was a sort of farewell. It’s so sad, today, to know that it was. —Salman Rushdie

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