A Night to Celebrate Knopf: 100 Years of Remarkable Authors and Books

On the first evening of October, the majestic Astor Hall at the New York Public Library filled with hundreds of literary luminaries to celebrate the 100th anniversary of publishing juggernaut Alfred A. Knopf. A jazz band played as guests mingled over drinks and hors d’oeuvres with a veritable who’s who of Knopf authors past and present, from Jim Shepard and Jenny Offill to Robert Caro and Toni Morrison.

Halfway through the night, Knopf Editor in Chief Sonny Mehta said some words to the crowd, followed by a few Knopf authors taking the mic. Mehta praised the Knopf team and supporters, stating, “At Knopf, we strive to acquire good books, and to publish them well. It sounds easy — I only wish it were. And yet over the past century our editors have curated and shaped a remarkable list. They, with their colleagues in production, and art, and publicity, marketing and in sales have helped this imprint to endure and to succeed. They are and have always been a disturbingly dedicated group.” Mehta also made sure to thank booksellers, librarians, and colleagues in the media for their work in championing books. “But most importantly,” said Mehta, “I must thank our authors — your work is the bedrock of Knopf — it always has been, and it always will be, and we are proud to be your publisher.”

Indeed, it was a night to celebrate Knopf authors, all of whom were in good spirits. James Ellroy, author of The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, and L.A Confidential, began his remarks at the microphone with a howl, in honor of the Borzoi dog breed that is the iconic logo of Knopf. I asked Ellroy what he thought of the live Borzoi dogs that were stationed at the entrance to the library that evening, greeting guests. Ellroy admitted, good-naturedly, “They’re good looking animals, but I’m more a pit bull man.”

During a break in the scheduled speakers, I chatted with two-time Booker prize winner Peter Carey, who sang the praises of Sonny Mehta. “I met him in Sydney when he was wearing a caftan…He’s a remarkable man, and everybody says, what will happen when Sonny’s not there anymore? Because he’s courageous, he’s cool, he’s got taste, he’s a friend, he’s wonderful to have lunch with, he’s a good man with a pencil to annoy me.” It was clear that Carey appreciated the long and intimate relationships that Mehta keeps with his authors. “If Sonny leaves,” said Carey, “the world will end!”

A highlight of the night was a special a capella performance by singer, performer, and Just Kids author Patti Smith, who proceeded her song with the following humble comments: “I’m the new girl in town. In 1967, I was in St. Marks Bookstore with Robert Mapplethorpe, and I opened a copy of Deleuze’s essays, and I pointed to the Borzoi and said to Robert, ‘Some day that dog will be mine.’ It took about 44 years, but I’m so proud. The long road was so worth it…the whole Knopf team, they’ve just been awesome.”

The crowd lingered well into the evening, enjoying a final cocktail well past the scheduled end time for the event, and well after the Borzoi greeters had left for the night. Toni Morrison echoed the sentiments of many in attendance, calling Knopf, “the world’s best publishing house” and saying, “It’s been a great ride, and there is more to come.”

Alfred A. Knopf 100th Anniversary Celebration

Alfred A. Knopf 100th Anniversary Celebration — ©Patrick McMullan

Toni Morrison - ©Patrick McMullan

Toni Morrison — ©Patrick McMullan

Sonny Mehta, Toni Morrison, James Ellroy, Robert Caro, Sharon Olds, Mitchell Kaplan - ©Patrick McMullan

Sonny Mehta, Toni Morrison, James Ellroy, Robert Caro, Sharon Olds, Mitchell Kaplan — ©Patrick McMullan

Alfred A. Knopf 100th Anniversary Celebration - ©Patrick McMullan

Alfred A. Knopf 100th Anniversary Celebration — ©Patrick McMullan

Dogs - ©Patrick McMullan

Dogs — ©Patrick McMullan

Judy Blume, Carole Baron - ©Patrick McMullan

Judy Blume, Carole Baron — ©Patrick McMullan

Alfred A. Knopf 100th Anniversary Celebration

Jay McInerney, Bill Buford — ©Patrick McMullan

James Ellroy - ©Patrick McMullan

James Ellroy — ©Patrick McMullan

Garth Risk Hallberg - ©Patrick McMullan

Garth Risk Hallberg — ©Patrick McMullan

Fran Lebowitz, Sonny Mehta - ©Patrick McMullan

Fran Lebowitz, Sonny Mehta — ©Patrick McMullan

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