Celebrated Literary Editor Robert Gottlieb Passes Away at 92
Renowned literary editor Robert Gottlieb, whose illustrious career was marked by influential collaborations with authors like Toni Morrison and Robert
Renowned literary editor Robert Gottlieb, whose illustrious career was marked by influential collaborations with authors like Toni Morrison and Robert Caro, has died at the age of 92. With his exceptional editorial skills, Gottlieb played a pivotal role in shaping the literary landscape, starting from his breakthrough work on Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” and extending over decades with Pulitzer Prize-winning classics such as Morrison’s “Beloved” and Caro’s “The Power Broker.”
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group announced that Gottlieb passed away on Wednesday at a New York hospital due to natural causes. In a statement, Caro, who had collaborated with Gottlieb for many years on his biographies of Lyndon Johnson and was featured alongside him in the documentary “Turn Every Page” last year, expressed his admiration for the editor’s deep understanding of the writing process.
Caro said, “From the day 52 years ago that we first looked at my pages together, Bob understood what I was trying to do and made it possible for me to take the time, and do the work, I needed to do… He was a great friend, and today I mourn my friend with all my heart.”
Gottlieb, known for his tall stature, self-assured demeanor, wavy dark hair, and dark-rimmed glasses, enjoyed an extraordinary career as an editor, contributing significantly to the modern literary canon. His impressive list of accomplishments includes working with future Nobel laureates Morrison, Doris Lessing, and V.S. Naipaul, as well as editing spy novels by John le Carré, essays by Nora Ephron, science thrillers by Michael Crichton, and Caro’s monumental nonfiction works. Additionally, he edited memoirs by Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall, and Katharine Graham, whose “Personal History” won a Pulitzer Prize. Gottlieb even left a lasting impression on former President Bill Clinton, who chose Alfred A. Knopf as his publisher, in part, to collaborate with Gottlieb on his memoir, “My Life.”
Gottlieb’s remarkable range of interests and lack of pretension made him a truly exceptional editor. He was equally enthusiastic about works like “Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life” and those of Chaim Potok. His desk for many years featured a bronze paperweight with the etching “GIVE THE READER A BREAK,” a testament to his belief in providing accessible and engaging literature.
While Gottlieb gained recognition during his tenure as editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster and later at Alfred A. Knopf, where he worked as an editor-at-large in recent years, he had also served as the editor of The New Yorker for five years. However, he departed from the magazine due to “conceptual differences” with publisher S.I. Newhouse. Gottlieb was a talented writer in his own right, contributing dance criticism to The New York Observer and book reviews to The New York Times. He authored a short biography of George Balanchine, co-wrote “A Certain Style: The Art of the Plastic Handbag, 1949-59,” and edited well-regarded anthologies of jazz criticism and 20th-century song lyrics. His memoir, titled “Avid Reader,” was published in 2016.
Gottlieb’s dedication to his work often consumed him, as he immersed himself in the editing process. One anecdote reveals that while his wife was in labor, he was simultaneously reviewing early proofs of a Cynthia Ozick book. His daughter, Lizzie Gottlieb, directed the documentary.