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Early success at Avon Books


A classic tale about the immigrant experience
Peter Mayer Publisher
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I was working at Avon Books and I remembered this book that I'd read some years earlier when I was a cab driver, and I bought the book at lunchtime with Alan Barnard advising me – now you say this, now you say that – from these two chaps Sid Solomon and Chip Chafetz. And they had republished the book in the interim in a rather nasty edition with not one introduction but three or maybe four, and they were presenting the book as a Jewish book. Well, it certainly was about Jews, and Henry Roth was certainly Jewish, and I think all the introductions were written by Jews about the Jewish-American immigrant experience. But what the book actually is, well, of course, it's about Jews, and it has a strong autobiographical aspect to it in terms of Henry Roth's family, it really was about the American immigrant experience. It was sort of the classic tale. It could have been Italian, of course, it couldn't have been Italian, but it could have been Irish. It could have been anything. It was, in fact, Jewish, but it was about an immigrant experience in the new world, and it was written fantastically.

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: Avon Books, Henry Roth

Duration: 1 minute, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015