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SUSAN HIRSCHMAN
EZRA JACK KEATS LECTURER

Susan Hirschman grew up in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She was an avid reader as a child and even took some of her favorite children's books along to college. During Hirschman's senior year, she was inspired by Jennie D. Lindquist, editor of Horn Book, who spoke to a group of students. Upon graduation from Wellesley College, Hirschman knew her future was in publishing.

She began her illustrious career in children's publishing in 1954 with a job in the children's book department of Alfred A. Knopf, working in the morning as secretary to the editor in chief, and in the afternoon as secretary to the library promotion director. She was hooked. After a year at Knopf, Hirschman moved to Harper and Brothers children's department, where she worked for legendary editor Ursula Nordstrom, reading unsolicited manuscripts.
 

During her time at Harper, Hirschman was responsible for beginning the careers of many now-famous authors and illustrators. Hirschman saw the potential in Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear stories and Peggy Parish's Amelia Bedelia; gave Arnold Lobel his first job as an illustrator, with Red Tag Comes Back; and was involved in the formation of the I Can Read series. Hirschman worked at Harper's for ten years, when she left to become editor in chief of the Macmillan children's book department.
 

At Macmillan, she worked with the stars of their backlist - Carol Ryrie Brink, Elizabeth Coatsworth, Berta and Elmer Hader, and Armstrong Sperry. She launched the careers of Pat Hutchins, Virginia Hamilton, Jack Prelutsky, Eve Rice, Tana Hoban, Ezra Jack Keats, Aliki and Franz Brandenberg, and Janina Domanska. Life at Macmillan was very good until 1974, when all department heads were told to cut their lists in half and to fire half of their staff. Rather than acquiesce, Hirschman resigned in protest. Of course, the situation was known to the entire children's book publishing community, and Hirschman was soon offered a position at William Morrow. They offered to start a new division, where she would be able to hire her talented staff from Macmillan - art director Ava Weiss, managing editor Ada Shearon, and senior editor Elizabeth Shub. The new division was called "Greenwillow," inspired by Elizabeth Coatsworth's book Under the Greenwillow Tree, illustrated by Janina Domanska.

Their first list was published in 1975, with sixteen books by former Macmillan authors and illustrators. They soon added James Stevenson, Kevin Henkes, Chris Crutcher, Donald Crews, Ann Jonas, and many others. Thus far, Greenwillow has had two Newbery Medal winners, three Newbery Honor books, ten Caldecott Honor books, and more than one hundred American Library Association Notable Children's Books and Best Books for Young Adults.

Hirschman's genius is recognized not only in the United States but throughout the world. In the summer of 1990, three Japanese art museums hosted a special exhibition of original art from fifty-five picture books created by eleven of the artists edited by Hirschman. Included were works by Arnold Lobel, Anita Lobel, Ezra Jack Keats, Vera B. Williams, Donald Crews, Ann Jonas, Janina Domanska, James Stevenson, Eve Rice, Marisabina Russo, and Pat Hutchins.

Those of us who love children's books are often unaware of the important role played by editors. They have a special sense that enables them to recognize an early spark of talent and to patiently allow that talent to develop and mature. Hirschman cautions that "we must remember that every author has a first book. No one starts full-blown. All authors need space and time to figure out just exactly who they are. Without the early books, there can be no later ones. One publishes authors, not books.

 

Contact:
The de Grummond Children's Literature Collection
Box 5148
Hattiesburg, MS 39406
(601) 266-4349
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