John Macrae III, NYC Publisher (1931-2023)

John Macrae III worked for almost a half-century in NYC as a publisher, first at E.P. Dutton, and then at Henry Holt. Macrae came from a family that had not only accumulated capital but had regarded itself as a major generator of cultural capital. As the numeral after his name indicates, his grandfather and father had dynastic ambitions, and John III left an imprint on NYC publishing in both a literal and artist sense.

It’s hard of rme not to think of Macrae as someone who represented the NYC publishing establishment that the small presses on the West Coast in the 1970s were hoping to undermine. Yet he was far more than a conventional member of the ruling class whose education at Harvard betokened a life of privilege that I could not imagine, even if I were to indulge in stupendous fantasy. Macrae was far more adventurous as a person than as a publisher, and it is for his willingness to speak up for those who took enormous risks in challenging dictatorial authority. Is there anyone working for a major company in NYC right now who takes the kinds of chances he did? Not that I know of.

Publishers don’t merely empower authors; they themselves are authors of the books they bring into the world. Verily, verily, I say unto thee that “the author is dead” might well have convinced some people with its blunt assassination. No one, however, ever said “the publisher is dead,” for quite good reasons. Macrae’s life is a perfect example of why no one dared to hint at the collapse of the role of the literary imprint, even as ever larger corporations enveloped a company such as E.P. Dutton.

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