The influential American publisher Alfred A. Knopf died on August 11, 1984 at age of ninety-one. Knopf was 22 in 1915 when he founded his own publishing house with a $5,000 loan from his father, a Jewish immigrant from Poland who had become a successful advertising executive in New York.
Knopf was joined in the company by his wife Blanche, who became a powerful and inspired editor. While Blanche was more occupied by shaping the quality of the writing Alfred was more interested in the financial side of the business and the handsomeness of the books he published. He obsessed over the quality of the paper, the binding and the typeface.
Originally he preferred books which he said needed no editing. Knopf published translations of prestigious European writers as well as American editions of British books. Knopf authors included Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster, Sigmund Freud, André Gide, Franz Kafka, D. H. Lawrence, Thomas Mann and W. Somerset Maugham.
Later, Knopf also published great American writers such as James Baldwin, James M. Cain, Theodore Dreiser, Dashiell Hammett, Langston Hughes, Willa Cather, H.L. Mencken and John Updike, many of them Blanche’s discoveries. One of the few authors Alfred discovered on his own was the amazingly popular Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, although Knopf didn’t like the book and couldn’t fathom its popularity.
Knopf’s books displayed the famous borzoi dog colophon and for generations they were guarantees of quality. Knopf was eventually sold to the publishing giant Random House and is now an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Knopf continued to be closely involved in the company until his death. He was a dapper, Anglophilic man with a reputation for being a bit of a snob. Still, he formed close friendships with many of his authors who were fiercely loyal to him and his vision of the publishing world.