a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


I just want to publish books


Settling in America
Peter Mayer Publisher
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I came to the United States when I was four, having been born in North London.  My parents… my mother was German, my father was from Luxembourg, but the culture of both was German.

And… we lived at 51 Fitzjohns Avenue, and when I was four, we came to the United States.  I think ostensibly the idea was to visit the United States.  Storm clouds were brewing, we weren't particularly British, although my parents had lived in Britain probably for six years before I was born, something like that, and we had cousins in the United States. They're not around [any longer] for me to enquire, but I think they came to visit the United States, and I believe war broke out while we were there. And I think we, to enter the United States legally, had to leave the United States and go to Canada and come into the United States again on a Canadian quota, or something like that. 

At four, I wasn't very interested, and I don't remember.  But after the war my father wanted to come back to England, because there was no question of going to Germany or Luxembourg, so it was a question of England or the United States.  My mother loved the United States, my father loved England: we stayed in the United States.

I think my mother liked formica or things like that, she could wipe things easily and she liked the convenience of America, I think.  My father really loved England.  Curiously, when I went back to England as a 17 or 18-year-old, to attend Christ Church at Oxford, I came to love England also, so that when I left Penguin which was in '97 or '98, after nearly 20 years running Penguin, I missed England extraordinarily.  And I think it led to the current situation where I actually have a flat in New York and London.

I did, during those nearly 20 years at Penguin, get in the habit of transatlantic flight backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards and I never got jet lagged, but I sure got tired.  But it was part of my rhythm, and so when the opportunity arose to acquire a grand, but fallen on bad times company, Duckworth, I leaped at it and bought Duckworth and then I was able to formalise, if you like, going backwards and forwards.

I'd been able to do it at Penguin, because we had interests, or Pearson… Penguin had interests all over the world and I travelled all over the world, but more probably between England and the United States than any other.  That became my habit and I think after a couple of weeks in either country I said, why am I not going to the airport tomorrow?  And… I picked that up again.

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: United States, Canada, England, Penguin Books

Duration: 4 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015