Robert Giroux, the great writer and editor, and publisher of such literary giants as Flannery O’Connor, Robert Lowell, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac and many others has died at the age of 94. The New York Times had this moving obituary on September 6. He was a partner in the distinguished publishing house of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Mr. Giroux, who also published his friend Thomas Merton’s writing in The Columbia Review, while the two were undergraduates there, received the 1988 St. Edmund Campion Award from the editorial board of America magazine, for his lifelong contribution to Christian writing.
Here is a small window into Giroux’s extraordinary life. He’s writing about his friend ’Tom’ in the introduction to the latest edition of Merton’s "The Seven Storey Mountain."
’Several years later, when I was working at Harcourt Brace & Company as a junior editor, I was asked to evaluate a novel by Thomas James Merton, submitted by Naomi Burton of the Curtis Brown literary agency. The hero of ’’The Straits of Dover’’ was a Cambridge student who transfers to Columbia and gets involved with a stupid millionaire, a showgirl, a Hindu mystic and a left-winger in Greenwich Village. I agreed with the other editors that the author had talent but the story wobbled and got nowhere. Merton was an interesting writer but apparently not a novelist.
Then, in May or June 1941, I encountered Tom in Scribner’s bookstore on Fifth Avenue. I had been browsing and felt someone touch my arm. It was Merton. ’’Tom!’’ I said. ’’It’s great to see you. I hope you’re still writing.’’ He said, ’’Well, I’ve just been to The New Yorker and they want me to write about Gethsemani.’’ I had no idea what this meant and said so. ’’Oh, it’s a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, where I’ve been making retreats.’’ This revelation stunned me. I had had no idea that Merton had undergone a religious conversion or that he was interested in monasticism. ’’Well, I hope to read what you write about it,’’ I said. ’’It will be something different for The New Yorker.’’ ’’Oh, no,’’ he said, ’’I would never think of writing about it.’’ That told me a great deal. I now understood the extraordinary change that had occurred in Merton.’
James Martin, SJ