Penguin Random House has confirmed the death of Sonny Mehta, editor in chief of Knopf and chairman of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Mehta died yesterday (30th December) in Manhattan at the age of 77, from complications from pneumonia.
Earlier Mehta's brother-in-law Naveen Patnaik had revealed the death on Twitter, writing that he was "deeply grieved" by the loss of "one of the world’s best editors and an extremely civilized person".
Mehta began his publishing career in London in 1965 at Rupert Hart-Davis. He joined Granada Publishing in 1966, where he cofounded Paladin Books, before moving on to Pan Books in 1972, where he helped relaunch the Picador imprint. During his London years, Mehta worked with major names across the writing spectrum, including Douglas Adams, Bruce Chatwin, Jackie Collins, Germaine Greer, Michael Herr, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Robert Stone, Graham Swift, and Edmund White.
In 1987, he moved to the United States when he was named president and editor in chief of Knopf, only the third person to lead the prestigious imprint in its 104-year history.
Under Mehta’s leadership, six of Knopf’s writers were awarded Nobel Prizes – Kazuo Ishiguro, Alice Munro, Orhan Pamuk, Imre Kertész, V S Naipaul, and Toni Morrison – with many others winning honours including Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, and the Booker Prize. At Knopf, Mehta published novelists including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, John Banville, Julian Barnes, Michael Crichton, James Ellroy, Richard Flanagan, Yaa Gyasi, P D James, Stieg Larsson, Gabriel García Márquez, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Jo Nesbø, Michael Ondaatje, Anne Tyler, and John Updike; as well as world leaders including Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, and other non-fiction writers, including Joan Didion and Nora Ephron. When Knopf and Doubleday were united to form a new publishing group in 2009, other writers came under his direction, including Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown, John Grisham, and Kevin Kwan.
Calling him a publishing "titan", PRH's statement said: "Mehta’s contributions to the world of letters and publishing are without precedent. His exacting standards – in editorial, production, design, marketing, and publicity – were a beacon to the book industry and beyond. He was a friend to writers, editors, and booksellers around the world. Mehta was also a gentleman, uniquely so, who cared deeply about his colleagues and the work with which he entrusted them. He was a beloved figure at Knopf, working at the only career he ever wanted. He lived a life in books, of books, and for books and writers."
Plans for a memorial service will be announced, PRH said.