Harcourt was the son of Gertrude M. Elting and Charles M. Harcourt. Alfred was born in New Paltz, New York to a fruit farmer and attended the New Paltz Normal School. While at the normal school Harcourt became a member of the Delphic Fraternity. An illness at age 9 led to his love for books and reading.
After his studies at New Paltz, Harcourt attended Columbia University where he was an editor of the student newspaper, the Columbia Spectator. Harcourt graduated from Columbia College of Columbia University in 1904 with fellow grad Donald Brace. The two joined Henry Holt and Company before founding Harcourt Brace and Company in 1919.
Alfred Harcourt represented some of the most recognized writers of the time such as Robert Frost Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and E.E. Cummings.
Harcourt's second wife, Ellen Knowles, founded the Alfred Harcourt Foundation in 1962. She died in 1984.
- American Authors and Books: 1640 to Present Day Third Revised Edition, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York. (Original Editors W. J. Burke and Will D. Howe)
- Alfred Harcourt, 73, A Former Publisher, New York Times Obit, June 21, 1954.
- In a Valley Fair: A History of the State University College of Education at New Paltz, by Elizabeth Lang and Robert Lang, New York, 1960.
- Alfred Harcourt
- https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/101754049/alfred-harcourt Find Grave: Alfred Harcourt
- Columbia University Archives, The Class of 1904, Columbia College.
- Elting Memorial Library Archives, New Paltz, NY.
- Death of Harcourt Recalls Lewis and His 'Main Street' by Harry Hansen, Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1954.
- American Literature in Transition, 1920–1930, edited by Ichiro Takayoshi.
- The Letters of T. S. Eliot Volume 6: 1932–1933, By T. S. Eliot.
- Alfred Harcourt, 73 Dies; Founded Publishing House, New York Herald Tribune, June 22, 1954.
- The History of Harcourt Brace and Company: 75 Years of Publishing Excellence, by Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, FL, 1994.
- Ellen Knowles Harcourt, 94; Book Editor, Philanthropist, New York Times Obituary, January 7, 1984.
- The Alfred Harcourt Foundation
- Alfred Harcourt at Library of Congress Authorities, with 2 catalog records (120-page memoir, apparently, and Letters of Sinclair Lewis that includes their correspondence)
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