Remembering Alice Mayhew, a True “Editor of Genius”Historians in the News
tags: obituaries, historians, editors
Alice Mayhew, who died earlier this week, was very much an editor in the Perkins mold. Her métier was political, historical, and biographical non-fiction, but she was an absolute believer in the power of the non-fiction narrative to be every bit as gripping as the best fiction. At 87, she was still editing manuscripts and churning out best-sellers from her perch as Editorial Director at Simon & Schuster, the publishing house she helped lead for almost 50 years. Mayhew was a veritable best-seller machine, from an early success with the feminist tract Our Bodies, Ourselves to 2018’s Fear, Bob Woodward’s account of the tumult inside the Trump White House, which was S&S’s best-selling title ever. Like many of her authors, Woodward worked with Mayhew for many years—over nine presidencies —and he produced 19 books with her. David Maraniss, another Washington Post writer and Mayhew devotee, was working on his 13th book with her when he learned of her death.
She was a tiny dynamo, with true knowledge, and an opinion, on nearly everything, and she enjoyed a grand finale, with some of her better-known authors—Woodward, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Walter Isaacson—each hitting the top of the non-fiction list almost simultaneously. But she was fiercely loyal to her lesser known authors, too, often showing up at readings or inviting them to lunch at her well-placed, reserved spot at Michael’s. She gave her many assistants over the years a heavy dose of mentoring and experience. Some became successful editors and writers themselves.
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