If it had not been for a 27-year-old self-proclaimed “Little Girl Friday,” Americans may never have experienced the Holocaust through the eyes of Anne Frank.
Judith Jones, who will be speaking at the Carnegie Music Hall Monday night as part of the Drue Heinz Lectures, was living in Paris, and working at Doubleday Publishing, when she stumbled across Anne Frank’s dairy in a pile of discarded submission rejects.
“One day, my boss went off to lunch with his fellow editors, and left me with a pile of stuff,” said Jones, now senior editor and vice president at Alfred A. Knopf publishers, where she has worked since 1957. As she was going through the pile, “I came to this lovely face,” she recalled. It was the photograph of Anne Frank gracing the cover of the advance copy of the French edition of the book that caught Jones’ eye, and bid her to begin reading.
“I read it all day,” she said. “When my boss returned, I told him, ‘We have to publish this book.’ He said, ‘What? That book by that kid?’”
Several publishers in New York had already rejected the book, according to Jones. It was 1952, and “the whole subject of the concentration camps and the horrors of the Holocaust had not been out yet,” she said.
“I knew the people at Doubleday in New York,” Jones recalled, “and I made the book quite important because I was so taken with it, and I felt it would have a real market in America. It’s one of those
seminal books that will never be forgotten.”
Nothing quite like Anne Frank’s diary previously had been published, but Jones didn’t let that fact dissuade her form promoting the book.
“We look for precedents too much,” she said, “and the book that doesn’t have a precedent is often a gem of its own, and people embrace it.”
“She was a good writer,” Jones said of Anne Frank. And Jones should know. Throughout her long career in the literary world, Jones has worked with such luminaries as Jen-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Langston Hughes and John Updike. She also published the first cookbook of a relatively unknown chef, Julia Child.
Jones believes her role in publishing “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” was “instrumental” in launching her own career at Knopf.
“When I came back [to the United Sates] from France, Mrs. Knopf had just fired an editor, and was looking to hire a new one. She said ‘You’re responsible for Anne Frank. Well, my editor had passed on that book.’” Mrs. Knopf then hired Jones. She has been with Knopf ever since.
Jones, a respected author in her own right, also will be speaking Monday about her memoir, “The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food,” in which she relates the importance of cooking to different phases of her life, and “The Pleasure of Cooking for One,” in which she gives “strategies” for creating meals for a single diner.
“I cook every day for myself,” Jones said. “It’s the best time of day for me.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.)