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Apr 15, 2018

A Political Education, Coming of Age in Paris and New York


A Political Education, Coming of Age in Paris and New York by André Schiffrin, early 50’s. Born in Paris in 1935, André Schiffrin was the only child of a highly regarded publisher, who established the Pleiade editions, very familiar to me when I was a student in Paris. When the occupation came, Gallimard himself yielded to Nazi pressure and fired André’s father along with the one other Jew employed by the publishing company. The family found refuge in New York, and André wound up at Friends. A democratic socialist all his life, he would wander into socialist milieux in the neighborhood after school and listen to radical lectures by such luminaries as Hannah Arendt, further defining himself as an intellectual socialist. Family friends André Gide and Roger Martin du Gard looked after him when he traveled to Paris as a youngster. His brilliance was duly noted at Yale and then at Cambridge, where offers to edit journals poured in. As editor of Pantheon books, he had a front row seat at the acquisition of smaller publishing houses by giant conglomerates, which cared for nothing except profit. Gone were the days when small important books could make it into print, bankrolled by best sellers. In an effort to keep a more diverse catalog, he launched his own company, the New Press, and made a go of it, proving that ethics did not spell the end. He died in 2013. I am so sorry I never met him! How marvelous it would have been to entertain this bi-lingual man of such rich gifts in our French classrooms! (I keep saying to myself, “Just think. He knew Gide.”)


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