On Monday Farrar, Straus and Giroux acquired a biography of Blanche Knopf—the wife of Alfred A. Knopf, founder and namesake of Random House’s rival literary imprint—by Laura Claridge.
“What’s fascinating about it is this writer has access to a tremendous cache of papers,” FSG executive editor Ileene Smith told The Observer yesterday.
Although she was reluctant to reveal more about the project, first reported by Publishers Marketplace, Ms. Smith told us that Ms. Claridge (who has written biographies of Emily Post, Norman Rockwell, and Art Deco painter Tamara De Lempicka) inherited papers collected over more than twenty-five years by two previous intended biographers of the Knopfs. The first was Susan Sheehan, veteran New Yorker writer and author of Pulitzer-winning Is There No Place on Earth For Me?
After working on a Knopf biography for many years, Ms. Sheehan abandoned the project and gave the papers to Peter Prescott, the longtime book critic for Newsweek who died in 2004. His family gave the materials to Ms. Claridge.
Unlike previous attempts, Ms. Smith explained, Ms. Claridge’s is the first to focus on Blanche. Although she is largely overshadowed by her husband’s legacy, Blanche founded Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. alongside Alfred, serving as director and vice president.
“That angle into the Knopf story is a particularly interesting one,” Ms. Smith said.
In the few articles written about her, Blanche is credited with luring the European giants like Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and André Gide (as well as the Americans like John Updike and H.L. Mencken) who established the house’s literary credentials. Plus, the native New Yorker was so stylish we’re surprised the film rights haven’t already been bought. Blanche was fluent in French, wore haute couture, lived off salads and martinis and selected the house’s Borzoi trademark, which she regretted after owning a pair of the Russian wolfhounds, according to the Knopf Archive at the University of Texas.
The project—bought in a pre-empt from the Carol Mann Agency—is Mr. Smith’s first acquisition for FSG, which she joined from Yale University Press in February. At Yale and, before that, at Random House, Ms. Smith acquired Janet Malcolm’s biography of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Two Lives; Azar Nafisi’s Nabokov scholarship; and Eve Ensler The Good Body.