As announced this morning via press release, Sonny Mehta—legendary and beloved editor in chief of Knopf, and chairman of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group—died yesterday in Manhattan at the age of 77.
Even the shortlist of writers Mehta worked with—in both the UK and the US, where he moved in 1987 to take over Knopf—reads like the heart of the contemporary literary canon. Along with Nobel-prize winners Kazuo Ishiguro, Alice Munro, Orhan Pamuk, Imre Kertész, V. S. Naipaul, and Toni Morrison, Mehta published and edited a remarkable international list of writers, including Germaine Greer, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Bill Clinton, Robert Caro, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Anne Carson, Michael Crichton, Edwidge Danticat, James Ellroy, Richard Flanagan, P. D. James, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gabriel García Márquez, Cormac McCarthy, Lorrie Moore, Haruki Murakami, Sharon Olds, Michael Ondaatje, Tommy Orange, Anne Rice, John Updike, Joan Didion, Oliver Sacks, Patti Smith, and Tobias Wolff.
In accepting his 2018 Maxwell E. Perkins Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Center for Fiction Mehta offered words that those of us who work in and adjacent to publishing would do well to heed: “Reading has been a constant in my life. I have always found comfort in the confines of a book or manuscript. Reading is how I spend most of my time, is still the most joyful aspect of my day. I want to be remembered not as an editor or publisher but as a reader.”