Biographers International Organization gave Nan A. Talese its Editorial Excellence Award at the New York Society Library on October 5. Almost 100 people turned out to honor Talese, including several of the authors she has worked with over the years, such as Judy Collins, Anne Heller, and A. E. Hotchner. Other guests from the publishing world included Sonny Mehta, Louis Begley, Robert MacNeill, and Robert Caro, who called the event one of the great literary evenings in New York. Talese joins Robert Gottlieb and Jonathan Segal as winners of the Editorial Excellence Award.
On December 3, more than 70 BIO members, editors, agents, and writers gathered at the New York Society Library to hear Robert Caro (left) pay tribute to Robert Gottlieb, the first winner of BIO’s Editorial Excellence Award.
Board member Will Swift introduced Caro, and after his tribute Gottlieb spoke for 35 minutes on biography and his decades-long collaboration with Caro.
Former BIO president James McGrath Morris said, “The evening was riveting and represented the kind of vital energy that attracts us to biography.” John Farrell added, “There is a sense one sometimes feels that, no matter what scene we are in at the moment, someone is having a better time somewhere else. But on Wednesday night, watching Robert Caro give the award to Robert Gottlieb, it was pretty clear to everyone there that no writers on the planet were having a finer time than we were.”
On December 3, BIO will present its first Editorial Excellence Award to Robert Gottlieb. The award honors an editor who has made outstanding contributions to the field of biography. A former editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster and Knopf, Gottlieb has edited countless best-selling novels as well as modern classics of the biographer’s craft.
Robert Caro, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the many writers who has benefited from Gottlieb’s skills, will present the award and offer a tribute. The two men first worked together on Caro’s The Power Broker, about New York City’s “master builder,” Robert Moses. The book earned Caro his first Pulitzer, and 40 years after its publication, it is a staple of college reading lists for courses on city planning and journalism.
Editing that classic work was not always easy for the two men. Caro told TBC, “I have a bad temper, and although Bob denies it, so does he. While we were editing The Power Broker, one or the other of us was always jumping up and stalking out of the room to cool off. Now he, of course, had the tactical advantage over me because when we were working at Knopf, he, as president of the company, could leave and go to somebody’s else office and transact some business, but I had no place to go except the bathroom. I went to the bathroom a lot, as I recall.”
Despite that sometimes-contentious start, Caro and Gottlieb have continued their relationship as Caro chronicles the life of Lyndon Johnson in a multi-volume biography (he is currently working on the fifth and concluding book). Gottlieb told BIO member Kate Buford that before he got a first draft of The Power Broker, “I had no interest whatsoever in Robert Moses—until I started reading. By the time I’d read the first chapter, I had a consuming interest—in him and in Caro.” (You can read the complete interview, first published in TBC in April 2014, here).
For his part, Caro praises Gottlieb for going beyond considering only what might be newsworthy, as many editors do. Caro said, “I have always believed that for a biography—for any non-fiction work—to endure, the level of its prose has to be just as high as the level of the prose in a novel that endures. The writing is what matters. And with Gottlieb, I found an editor who was interested in that, too. When we’re working together, what matters—and it is all that matters—is what is on the page in front of us.”
Gottlieb, in an interview with The Paris Review, offered a humble of appraisal of what he does: “Editing is simply the application of the common sense of any good reader.”
Attendees of the December 3 award ceremony can expect to hear many more insights on both the editor’s and the biographer’s craft from these two respected figures. The event will be 6-8 p.m. at the New York Society Library, 53 East 79th Street, New York, NY 10075. Tickets are $45 and include drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Space is limited, so reserve early here.
This May, BIO will give its first Editorial Excellence Award to Robert Gottlieb. The award honors an editor who has made outstanding contributions to the field of biography. A former editor in chief at both Simon & Schuster and Knopf, Gottlieb has edited countless best-selling novels as well as modern classics of the biographer’s craft. He is also a biographer himself. A paperback edition of his most recent book, Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens, was released last November. To mark his winning the inaugural Editorial Excellence Award, Gottlieb spoke with BIO member Kate Buford. Here are excerpts of the interview; you can find the complete version at the BIO website.