Ajai Singh Mehta
9 November 1942
New Delhi, India
|Died||30 December 2019 (aged 77)|
New York City, U.S.
|Occupation||Book editor and publishing executive|
Born in New Delhi on 9 November 1942, Sonny Mehta was the son of Amrik Singh Mehta, among the first of independent India's diplomats, and Satinder (Duggal) Singh. As a child, Mehta lived all over the world, including Prague, New York City, Nepal and Geneva. He was educated at the Lawrence School, Sanawar, and Sevenoaks School in Kent, where he won an open scholarship to St Catharine's College, Cambridge. At Cambridge University he read History and English Literature and worked on the magazine Granta.
Mehta began his publishing career in 1965 in London at Rupert Hart-Davis, then joined Granada Publishing in 1966 to co-found a new publishing house, Paladin, where he commissioned Germaine Greer's influential The Female Eunuch and brought American writers to the UK public with books including Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Moving to Pan Books in 1972, Mehta added to its list of best-selling authors by publishing writers who went on to become household names, including Jackie Collins and Douglas Adams, and launched there the Picador Books imprint, publishing Booker Prize winners Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Edmund White, Julian Barnes and Graham Swift, as well as Ryszard Kapuściński, Angela Carter, Bret Easton Ellis and Michael Herr, leading The Times to describe his tenure as producing "the Picador Generation".
In 1987, Mehta moved from London to New York City to head the American literary imprint Alfred A. Knopf as president and editor-in-chief. Mehta was chosen by Robert Gottlieb, who was leaving Knopf to edit The New Yorker. On Mehta's watch, Knopf published six Nobel literature laureates (Kazuo Ishiguro, Alice Munro, Orhan Pamuk, Imre Kertész, V. S. Naipaul, and Toni Morrison), numerous Pulitzer Prize, Booker Prize and National Book Award winners, and continued the tradition of publishing important French, German, Italian, Spanish, Scandinavian, South American, African, Asian writers as well as work by such contemporary leaders as U.S. presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, UK Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, and Pope John Paul II. Mehta's tenure at Knopf featured new translations of Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Robert Musil, and Albert Camus; bestsellers included Ken Burns's history of the Civil War, Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, James Ellroy's crime fiction, and the Fifty Shades trilogy. Mehta recognized the importance of the new genre of graphic novels, publishing prize-winning titles Maus and Persepolis.
Although Alfred A. Knopf has been publishing books for more than one hundred years, Mehta was only the third editor-in-chief. He told Vanity Fair in 2015: "On a good day, I am still convinced I have the best job in the world."
The addition of Pantheon, Vintage Books, Schocken and Everyman's Library to the Knopf Publishing Group, and later the Doubleday group in 2009, all working under Mehta's direction, led to him being described as the world's most important anglophone publisher.
On Alfred A. Knopf surviving threats to the publishing business and the tumult of acquisitions and mergers, Mehta said: "We're part of something that is very large but we concentrate on our way of doing things. It may be illusory to insulate oneself from it all, but we try."
Awards and recognition
Mehta won Lifetime Achievement Awards for publishing in India, the UK, and the United States. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bard College in 2008. He was in the Hall of Fame in Vanity Fair's Best-Dressed Men in the World list.
In 2018, the Center for Fiction awarded Mehta the Maxwell E. Perkins Award, honouring the lifetime work of an editor, publisher or agent "who over the course of his or her career has discovered, nurtured and championed writers of fiction in the United States."
In 1965, he married Gita Patnaik, daughter of Biju Patnaik and sister of Naveen Patnaik. She later became a documentary film-maker and writer under her married name. They had one son, Aditya Singh Mehta.
Sonny Mehta died on 30 December 2019 at the age of 77, in Manhattan, New York, of complications from pneumonia. To celebrate his life, memorial events were held in New York and in London. The best-selling American author John Grisham dedicated his latest novel A time for mercy to memory of Sonny Mehta.
- McFadden, Robert D. (31 December 2019), "Sonny Mehta, Venerable Knopf Publisher, Is Dead at 77", The New York Times.
- "Knopf Doubleday Chairman Sonny Mehta Dies at 77". Publishers Lunch. 31 December 2019.
- Eggers, Dave (15 September 2015). "Why Knopf Editor in Chief Sonny Mehta Still Has the 'Best Job in the World'". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
- Cooper, Glenda (7 September 1997). "How We Met: Sir Richard Eyre and Gita Mehta". The Independent. Retrieved 1 January 2020.
- Wallace, Christine (1999). Germaine Greer: Untamed Shrew. Faber and Faber. ISBN 9780571199341.
- Picador. "History – Picador". www.picador.com. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
- Jack, Ian (May 1987). "The King of the Heap". Vanity Fair.
- Durden-Smith, Jo (June 1987). "Top of the Heap: Why an English editor got the best job in American book publishing". Connoisseur.
- Swanson, Clare (15 May 2015). "A Century of Alfred A. Knopf". Retrieved 9 September 2015.
- "All Nobel Prizes in Literature". www.nobelprize.org. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
- Cowdrey, Katherine (31 December 2019), "Sonny Mehta dies aged 77", The Bookseller.
- Tejpal, Tarun J. (19 June 2013). "The Unknown Prince of Publishing". India Today.
- Allen, Katie (8 March 2011). "Sonny Mehta to receive LBF Lifetime Achievement Award". The Bookseller.
- "Nobel winner Venkatraman Ramakrishnan is India Abroad Person of [the year]". Bloomberg. 6 March 2012. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
- Bard College (2008). "Bard Press Release | Congressman Charles B. Rangel To Deliver Commencement Address at Bard College's 148th Commencement On Saturday, 24 May". www.bard.edu. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
- "The International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame 2015". Vanity Fair. 5 August 2015. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
- Deahl, Rachel (4 December 2015), "Sonny Mehta: 2015 PW Person of the Year", Publishers Weekly.
- "Sonny Mehta Receives Maxwell E. Perkins Award from the Center for Fiction", News, Penguin Random House, 17 December 2018.
- "'One of world's best editors': Alfred A Knopf's Sonny Mehta passes away". The Indian Express. 31 December 2019. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
- "Sonny Mehta, head of publisher Knopf, dies aged 77". The Guardian. Associated Press in New York. 31 December 2019.
- Milliot, Jim (20 February 2020). "Hundreds Turn Out to Remember Sonny Mehta". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
- Tagholm, Roger (10 March 2020). "Markus Dohle: 'I work for Sonny'". Publishing Perspectives.
- "A Time for Mercy by John Grisham: 9780593157824 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books". PenguinRandomhouse.com.
- Entertainment Weekly, "The 101 Most Powerful People in Entertainment", November 1991, October 1995, October 1996, October 1997.
- Roger Cohen, "New Publishing Star, Sonny Mehta, Talks Profits As Well As Art", The New York Times 13 November 1990.
- Edwin McDowell, "After A Year, Knopf Shows the Impact of Its New Publisher", The New York Times, 26 March 1988.