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André Schiffrin ’57: the end

After André Schiffrin ’57 and his family fled Nazi-controlled France in 1941, they settled comfortably into New York's socialist literary circles. But just a dozen years later, arriving at Yale, Schiffrin found that "fear was everywhere."

It was the McCarthy era. "In 1954, we got the Socialist Norman Thomas to speak, but people were afraid to give their names," he remembered in a 2007 interview. "They left saying they didn’t want to be on the mailing list, students and townspeople equally."

Schiffrin, who died on December 1, was not so easily intimidated. He and Jesse Lemisch ’57, ’63PhD, were "founding members of the Yale chapter of the Student League for Industrial Democracy (later SDS), and among the handful of socialists at Yale at the time," Lemisch once proclaimed in a letter to this magazine. "We offended in various ways against the Yale mainstream: attacking secret societies and fraternities, endorsing coeducation, ridiculing 'shoe' culture—and going relatively dateless."

After graduating from Yale and earning a master's degree from Cambridge University, Schiffrin succeded his late father in the family business of publishing left-wing writers at Pantheon Books, a division of Random House. He recruited Studs Terkel to turn his radio interviews into oral histories such as Division Street: America and Hard Times. He published Noam Chomsky and Art Spiegelman (Maus). The New York Times calls him “one of America’s most influential men of letters.”

But in 1990, Pantheon's "chronic losses and Mr. Schiffrin’s refusal to accept cutbacks" put him on the wrong side of Random House's CEO, who fired the editor in chief. Colleagues and authors (including Terkel, Spiegelman, and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening) quit, and other writers marched in protest. Schiffrin was "seen as a hero for quality over profit,” the Los Angeles Times writes.

Schiffrin went on to cofound the New Press, a nonprofit publisher of books "in the public interest," where he remained until his death from pancreatic cancer.

Filed under publishing, André Schiffrin
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