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Re: LITERARY GIANT from Jersey City Dies at 94
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"In Jersey City, This Literary Lion Was Just Their Bob"

By Mark Di Ionno

The Star-Ledger

September 11, 2008

Had Robert Giroux died young, his wake and funeral would have been one of the literary events of the 20th century.

He was the American editor of T.S. Eliot. He edited the novels of Virginia Woolf, the short stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer, the poetry collections of Carl Sandburg. He recognized the Southern Gothic style of Flannery O'Connor as well as the Disengaged American voice of Jack Kerouac. He took a gamble with the experimental writings of Susan Sontag. He championed Bernard Malamud, who was a middle-aged college professor when his first book was published. William Saroyan, William Golding, Robert Lowell, Katharine Anne Porter, the list goes on and on. So do the prizes: Nobels, Pulitzers, National Book Awards. Giroux's authors won them all.

In being a literary giant-maker, Robert Giroux became a literary giant himself. He was the Giroux of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the leading publisher of serious American literature.

So if Robert Giroux had died young, all those literary giants, and the industry built around them, would have gathered to mourn their loss. They would have spoken with eloquence and passion about his contributions to their legacies.

But Robert Giroux didn't die young. He died old, at 94, in an assisted-living center at the Jersey Shore last week. And when he was laid out Tuesday at the Reilly Funeral Home in Belmar, the room may have been filled with Ghosts of Great Books past, but sparse with surviving friends. Those friends were almost all a generation younger than Giroux, and like him had roots in Jersey City's old Irish-Catholic west side.

"He stayed connected," said Hugh McKenna, a nephew of Giroux's oldest and closest friend, Charles Reilly, who accompanied Giroux on his worldwide trips and social engagements.

Now wheelchair-bound, Reilly was brought to the wake as the only survivor from the old days of Robert Giroux's other world -- the close-knit group of families and friends from the blue-collar and politically connected neighorborhoods of Jersey City, where the erudite literary giant-maker was known to all as "Bob."

"We had him over for all the Christmas and Easter holidays with our family; he was part of our family," said Hugh (Jim) McKenna, whose late father, also Hugh, remained friends with Giroux even though their lives took divergent paths. While Giroux attended functions like Jackie Kennedy Onassis' 60th birthday party, the elder McKenna was a trucking company supervisor who became the Hudson County clerk.

"He was a very down-to-earth person," said Jim McKenna's wife, the former Mary O'Boyle. "He talked a little bit about his other life. We knew he was friends with Jackie O and Brooke Astor, but he didn't harp on it."

Not that he wouldn't occasionally drop a name.

Carol Verdan, whose husband William is also a nephew of Charles Reilly's, said Giroux once told her stories like this: "'Bob was on the beach with T.S. Eliot and his wife, and this woman comes out of the surf and says, 'Mr. Eliot, I'm a great admirer of your work.' And she takes off her bathing cap and shakes out her hair, and they realize it's Joan Crawford."

Along with those stories, he also passed on his love of books.

Regina (McKenna) Hennon, remembers getting, as a girl, "these beautifully illustrated children's books as presents from Bob. They were wonderful books."

She also remembered "he always had a manuscript in his hand," which he gladly put aside for family games of Monopoly and Scrabble. "He and Charles would play to win. They were very cut-throat games."

William Verdon, an attorney and another nephew of Reilly's, said Giroux "certainly whet our appetite for literature. I read the page proofs for (Bernard Malamud's baseball epic) "The Natural" when I was 12 years old. Bob knew I liked baseball, so he said, 'What do you think?' He gave me the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer to read in page proofs."

And in that last statement is exactly why Bob Giroux, a very smart kid from a blue-collar neighborhood in Jersey City, went on to become a literary giant-maker. While that might seem odd at first, the fact is Giroux understood the shrinking world. Like many World War II veterans, he saw the danger in political and cultural ignorance. He knew an Irish-Catholic kid from Jersey City like Billy Verdon should know about Isaac Bashevis Singer's world of Eastern European pogroms. He knew the spiritual writings of Catholic activist Thomas Merton, a classmate at Columbia, deserved an interdenominational audience.

He believed great literature could come from, and speak to, ordinary people. He was a representative of that belief. Just like the writers of his generation.

Posted on: 2008/9/12 0:21
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Re: LITERARY GIANT from Jersey City Dies at 94
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kudos to Mr. Giroux for a his long life of art and influence.

Malamud is one of my favorites, and FS&G put out great titles.

as for the list reaction, even we literary snobs can admit that somebody dying peacefully at age 94 just doesn't rile the emotions like a 36-year-old victim of random violence.

but thank you for posting it. it's good to remind ourselves that people can live a good life around here, and that some deaths are of natural causes.

Posted on: 2008/9/8 4:28
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Re: LITERARY GIANT from Jersey City Dies at 94
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Quote:

groovlstk wrote:
Not surprised this thread has no responses. The type of residents people here twitter about are usually lowbrow celebrities like Mos Def or Queen Latifah.

This guy was loyal to his home city despite the fact that practically all of his colleagues in the snobfest NY publishing circles wouldn't get caught dead in JC.

I'd have been a helluva a lot more proud to have Mr. Giroux as a neighbor than Michelle Rodriguez (and I'd feel much safer since he probably didn't pack a gun like some of the aforementioned).


+1!

I was very familiar with Mr. Giroux, his authors and their books and particularly his work at FS&G. He was an excellent editor and publisher and a literary man of belles lettres that is long gone among most at publishers today.

He will be missed not only among his family, friends and co-workers, but by those who knew only his work as a man of integrity and literary taste.

Posted on: 2008/9/8 4:16
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Re: LITERARY GIANT from Jersey City Dies at 94
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jcnative wrote:
Salute to Mr. Giroux, a fellow Regis alum.



And a fellow Saint Al's Grammar alum. I'll have to read some of his stuff.

Posted on: 2008/9/8 0:49
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Re: LITERARY GIANT from Jersey City Dies at 94
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Salute to Mr. Giroux, a fellow Regis alum.

Posted on: 2008/9/7 22:32
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Re: LITERARY GIANT from Jersey City Dies at 94
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Not surprised this thread has no responses. The type of residents people here twitter about are usually lowbrow celebrities like Mos Def or Queen Latifah.

This guy was loyal to his home city despite the fact that practically all of his colleagues in the snobfest NY publishing circles wouldn't get caught dead in JC.

I'd have been a helluva a lot more proud to have Mr. Giroux as a neighbor than Michelle Rodriguez (and I'd feel much safer since he probably didn't pack a gun like some of the aforementioned).

Posted on: 2008/9/7 21:55
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LITERARY GIANT from Jersey City Dies at 94
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"Literary Giant from Jersey City Dies at 94"

By The Jersey Journal

Friday September 05, 2008, 6:49 PM

Jersey City native Robert Giroux, a book editor who launched the careers of many famed writers, has died, the New York Times is reporting.

He was 94.

Giroux died in his sleep early this morning at an assisted living facility in Tinton Falls.

"A towering giant in the field of publishing and literature, and never one to abandon his hometown,'' Jersey Journal Legends & Landmarks columnist John Gomez noted, Giroux only moved "a few years ago when fragile health prompted him to leave the St. John's Apartments complex in Journal Square.''

As a partner in the publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the editor who got his start at The Jersey Journal back in 1931 was often visited by literary lions, Gomez noted.

Author Bernard Malamud, Gomez said, must have been impressed.

"He often set scenes from his books in Jersey City, perhaps most prominently in his apocalyptic 1982 novel (and masterwork), 'God's Grace.'"

Through the years, the Jersey City community bestowed numerous honors on Giroux including an award from St. Aloysius Church, from whose grammar school he graduated in 1927, and the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy. He also spoke of his experiences at St. Peter's College.

"To say that he is one of the most significant literary figures in the United States in this century might be an understatement,'' the Rev. Alexander Santora wrote in announcing the St. Al's award in 1989. "Look at the great writers he has worked with: Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, Bernard Malamud, Hannah Arendt and many more."

More info at: http://www.nj.com/hudson/

Posted on: 2008/9/5 23:45
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