Stephen Hayward, who has died unexpectedly, aged 61, while travelling in Andalusia, was the founder (in 1992) of independent publisher Serif, which he ran from his home in London’s East End. He did practically everything himself, from commissioning and editing to tramping around the country persuading booksellers to stock his beautifully produced wares with their elegant, witty covers designed by Pentagram Berlin.
He was the son of Gay (née Goulding), an orthoptist, and Victor, a Major-General. At Jesus College, Cambridge, he read law and social and political sciences. He then took a diploma in international relations at the John Hopkins Centre in Bologna. This inspired his lifelong interest in the Italian Communist Party and commitment to its Euro-Communist ideals. Stephen possessed a Partito Comunista Italiano flag, which he took on demonstrations; most recently to the vigil outside the French Embassy in London after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.
Having worked as a porter at King’s College, London, as a teacher of English as a second language and as a part-time journalist, he moved into publishing. He worked for the Publications & Distributions Co- operative, as a part-time assistant for Central Books and as part-time publicity and promotion manager for Lawrence & Wishart (L&W). In 1983, he became an editor at L&W.
His strong belief in the power of ideas, and in collective radical struggle, led him to co-edit three major anthologies with his friend and literary collaborator Sarah LeFanu. Colours of a New Day: Writing for South Africa (1990), inspired by the 1988 Free Nelson Mandela concert, had a foreword by Mandela, written on his release from prison. Next came God: An Anthology of Fiction (1992) and then Obsession (1994), dedicated “To Luis Bunuel, obsessive freethinker.”
The Serif list, covering history, politics, culture and fiction, revealed Stephen’s interests, simultaneously eclectic and focused. His love of Ireland, for example, led him to republish both The Aran Islands and Travels in Wicklow, West Kerry and Connemara by J M Synge. His celebrated cookery list featured important republications, such as Cooking in Ten Minutes by Édouard de Pomiane and The Alice B Toklas Cookbook, and originally commissioned books such as The Floral Baker by Frances Bissell and Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens by Mark Grant. His World Food series covered Bengali, Moroccan, Jamaican and Parsi cuisines.
On the Serif website, Stephen wrote: “These are turbulent times for publishing . . . Serif remains resolutely committed to the printed book as a beautiful object.”
Serif’s first e-books appeared in 2012. Stephen commented: “Good writing, properly edited, is the raison d’être of publishing, whether it appears on decent paper, properly bound within a stylish Pentagram cover, or on a light, portable screen.” Stephen’s high principles meant that Serif’s website has a link to Wordery, “an online bookseller,” he wrote, “[that] pays its taxes”.
Stephen spoke French, Spanish and Italian, and could crack jokes in all of them. Witty and erudite, a brilliant cook, he moved in overlapping circles of loving friends. He is survived by his mother and his sister, Vicky.