Publishers, agents and authors have paid tribute to Sonny Mehta, chairman of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, who died on Tuesday (30th December) at the age of 77 from complications from pneumonia.
Gail Rebuck, chairman of Penguin Random House UK, called Mehta "a wise, gentle and constant friend", saying: "His impeccable taste, groundbreaking publishing and passion for great writing launched so many of the world’s greatest authors. Truly the end of an era."
Anthony Forbes Watson, m.d. Pan Macmillan, spoke of the legacy owed at Pan Macmillan to Mehta. He told The Bookseller: "Sonny was one of the few true giants of global publishing over the last half century, and he made his first significant mark at Pan, when he arrived in 1972. There he demonstrated his ability to publish with brilliance across the spectrum, from Jackie Collins to Douglas Adams, while magnificently redefining Picador as an imprint, where he published a host of major international writers and Booker Prize winners including Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes, Bret Easton Ellis and Michael Herr. Picador's 2018 Imprint of the Year Award owed much to Sonny's legacy. He joined us in 2017 to celebrate 70 years of publishing at Pan, and we were very proud to welcome him back."
Macmillan publisher Jeremy Trevathan paid his respects to "a legendary publisher and one of the prime movers behind the creation of Pan Books and Picador in the UK", adding: "There is a whole generation of British editors and publishers who will sorely miss the regular informal mentoring sessions with Sonny in the brasserie across the road from PRH’s New York offices".
Jonny Geller, c.e.o. of Original Talent and chairman of Curtis Brown, told The Bookseller: "When I visited New York as a rookie agent, 25 years ago, I couldn’t believe that the great Sonny Mehta, former visionary publisher of Pan and the genius behind so many great writers at Knopf, invited me to his apartment to meet. He wanted to know my ideas, what I thought was going on in UK publishing and did I have anything for him to read. Imagine!
"His insatiable curiosity, complete lack of pomposity and his uncanny instinct to pick a literary and commercial bestseller made him a publisher admired by all. His long silences, calm delivery and mischievous smile added to his charm and mystery. One of the greats and he will be sorely missed by editors, agents and authors."
Agent Clare Alexander said of Mehta that he was "simply the best publisher–perhaps not only of his generation but perhaps of any generation" and "an inspiration" to many, representing "the very best of our business".
She said: "A passionate reader, he kept up an extraordinary pace, consuming up to 10 books a week. A man of extraordinary taste, throughout a long career he had an unmatched eye for the very best writing. An aesthete, he loved everything about creating beautiful books and had a huge impact in particular on how books looked. A paperback publisher by background, he was no intellectual snob–knowing with certainty where lay excellence, he loved nothing more than to promote and sell books. He made bestsellers of some of the greatest but also some of the most entertaining writers of our time.
"Although it would have made him uncomfortable to acknowledge it, he was an inspiration not only to me, but to several generations of people in publishing who have come up behind him. He was also a warm and loyal friend to so many of us.
"In 2019 we have lost Irene Skolnick, Susan Kamil and now Sonny. They represented the very best of our business, and I will miss them so! But I know Sonny would expect nothing less than for us to continue to love and work hard for all that is best in the publishing business–and that’s how I intend to honour his legacy."
Ian Hudson, DK c.e.o. said he was "desperately sorry" to hear of the loss of Mehta–"a gentle and generous man, the greatest publisher of his generation and the books he published will enrich the lives of many generations to come"–adding he felt privileged to have enjoyed his "friendship and wise counsel".
A host of authors have also paid their respects on social media. Robert Harris paid tribute to "a unique and brilliant man" and Hari Kunzru to "a giant of publishing", adding, "I’ll miss drinking Scotch in his corner office at Knopf and hearing about the books that were exciting him". Desmond Elliott Prize-winner Preti Taneja said her heart was hurting from the loss of Mehta, calling him "the most astute editor and kindest mentor, whose fierce literary vision stood for a writer's freedom of voice... his belief in my work changed my life."
Picture credit: Michael Lionstar