FSG's Elizabeth Sifton Defends Her Father, Reinhold Niebuhr, Against Plagiarism Charges

Elizabeth Sifton, a veteran editor at the boutique publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux, has found herself at the center of a controversy surrounding the authorial origins of a prayer–“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”–that has traditionally been attributed to her father, the Christian theologian Reinhold Neibuhr. Until very recently it was accepted that Neibuhr came up with the phrase in the early 1940s, but The Times reports today that a law librarian at Yale named Fred Shapiro has dug up evidence that it was actually invoked by various speakers around the U.S. as early as 1936. Mr. Shapiro is laying out his case in this month’s issue of Yale Alumni Magazine; his article is followed by a response from Ms. Sifton in which she reaffirms her belief that “God grant me the serenity…” was her father’s invention.

Media Mob wanted to know how the FSG offices were reacting to this morning’s Times piece–were Ms. Sifton’s colleagues rallying around her? Was it the talk of the office, or was this whole thing old news to the people who are close to her at work?

The answer to all those questions is that it’s after 12 on a Friday in July, and most of the phones at FSG are going to voice mail. We did find out one thing, which is that Ms. Sifton quietly retired from FSG about a month ago. Ms. Sifton came to FSG in 1993 after leaving a VP spot at Knopf, and in 2003 relinquished her hold on the imprint Hill & Wang in order to focus on acquiring for FSG proper. Now she’s something like an editor-at-large, still working on a few pet projects and coming into the office occasionally, but less involved in day-to-day business than she was as a full editor. According to her voice-mail greeting, she is “working now almost entirely from home.”

FSG's Elizabeth Sifton Defends Her Father, Reinhold Niebuhr, Against Plagiarism Charges