With the passing of André Schiffrin, the publishing world has lost a giant and Verso a much-respected author, whose razor-sharp analysis of the publishing industry has been vindicated many times over.
Culturally, intellectually and physically he inhabited two worlds: Paris/New York. The single most important influence on his life was his father Jacques Schiffrin, a refugee from St Petersburg who arrived in France in 1920 and by 1923, had established a publishing house, La Pléiade, a permanent bequest to French culture. The publishing house started by translating the Russian classics, translated into French by Schiffrin and established a strong reputation as a house of quality, that later became an imprint within Gallimard but with Jacques in complete editorial control. André was born in 1935.
André talked me into book publishing, when most of my friends were abandoning the dying planet of print for the exciting new cosmos of the Internet. He somehow managed to suggest that publishing was both doomed and indispensable. In any case, he didn’t talk much about the book “industry”—a term he hated—when we first met. Instead, he poured out a stream of questions about The Village Voice, where I was writing and editing—who are the most interesting writers?, what are they covering?, what is she saying about labor? Then questions about the media landscape—how does this compare to what Ehrenreich had written recently? Sen? Ha Joon Cha? Then history—but what about Piven’s arguments about the ‘30s? Arrighi’s? I discovered two things the first time I talked to André. One was what he wrote about his conversations with his good friend Foucault: “Simply talking to him made me feel much more intelligent than I was.” The other is that I knew nothing.
Photo by Henri Zerdoun
We were deeply saddened to hear that André Schiffrin had died. He was not only the preeminent radical American publisher of his generation—perhaps of all generations—he was also a Verso author, the writer of the two most trenchant books on contemporary publishing, The Business of Books (2001) and Words and Money (2010).