A Teacher of the Publishing World Is Gone

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Many people working in publishing today have Lindy Hess to at least partly thank for their careers. The longtime director of the Columbia Publishing Course, who has just passed away, shepherded countless recent college graduates into some of New York’s finest imprints.

Many of her students are still there, rising through the ranks. Among them is Jordan Pavlin, a high-ranking editor at Knopf. Another is Esquire editor-in-chief David Granger, as is influential agent Amy Williams and Lee Boudreaux, who heads Ecco Press.

Hess was 63. The cause of death was lung cancer.

As The Times reports, the publishing course had been a fusty affair before Hess took over in 1988. As a sign of its diminished relevance, the  course – founded in 1947 as the Radcliffe Publishing Course – was based in Cambridge, Mass., where publishing hadn’t been centered since roughly the time of Cotton Mather.

Shaye Areheart, who has taken over as the acting director of the CPC, told The Atlantic Wire, “There had been so much social and cultural change [during the 1960s and ’70s]. The Radcliffe course had become rather moribund. Lindy came in and she had such progressive thinking. She had an enthusiasm about books and authors and teaching and young people that strengthened and broadened the course and its reputation.”

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In 2001, Hess moved the course to Columbia University, cementing its reputation as a place where you both learned about how to publish books and – perhaps just as importantly – met the people who published them. A recent pamphlet for the CPC, for example, describes a visit from Art of Fielding author Chad Harbach and his publisher – Little, Brown’s influential Michael Pietsch – as well as his agent and publicist. For a 22-year-old new to both Manhattan and its clubby media world, such encounters could be priceless.

But there were real lessons here, too, as The Times notes:

Her biggest innovation was to turn the program into a kind of boot camp. Students put together mock publishing houses, acquiring books, making deals with agents and then editing, designing and marketing the books.

She was also influential in bringing more women into the field, as Publishers Weekly noted some time ago, with the course having a gender ration of 8-to-2 in favor of female participants. Asked about whether she had any concern about the biases of female editors, Hess responded, “Is there a man or a woman who would not have published Jonathan Franzen? I think great literature transcends gender in terms of editors.”

Accordingly, remembrances of her have been universally warm.

“Lindy Hess arrives in the afterlife, immediately invites publishing luminaries for sherry, gets everyone organized by fall,” wrote Slate literary editor Dan Kois on Facebook.

The writer Matt Haber wrote on Twitter, “Goodbye, and thanks to Lindy Hess, who threw me a lifeline & made me part of a team. Generosity like yours is rare,” while Times media reporter Julie Bosman called her, on the same platform, “a huge advocate for publishing.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.