Friday, April 12, 2024

Book Publishing: Gary Fisketjon, Editor Who Glamorized Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1980s, Fired by Knopf for “Policy Breach”


I’m late catching up with some good news. Alfred A. Knopf has fired editor Gary Fisketjon for “breach of policy.” It was reported first on a blog called Publishers Lunch, then in the New York Times.

Fisketjon rose to fame in 1984 when he published Jay McInerney’s original paperback, “Bright Lights, Big City.” The one off success launched Fisketjon and soon Random House had a whole of Vintage Originals that were mostly not good and eventually sank under their own weight.

Fisketjon and his cohort Morgan Entrekin came on May 19, 1986 to the venerable Atlantic Monthly Press when Mort Zuckerman, the owner, sold the fabled book company to Carl Navarre, the son of a Coca Cola bottler. On that day, Navarre fired Harold Evans, the award winning editor in chief, and replaced him with Fisketjon.

I was the publicity director at the AMP, and we were in the middle of campaigns for Picasso’s sketchbooks and a number of other important non fiction books, as well as a novel called “Soldiers in Hiding” that went on to win the PEN/Faulkner prize, edited by Joyce Johnson.

Navarre and Fisketjon were not interested in any of that. A nightly party beginning at 5pm began almost the next day. I mean a literal nightly cocktail party, corks popping, noses sniffing, “Bright Lights, Big City” for real, hosted by out-of-towners who were too cool for any of us, rode around in limos, announced that they were going to Nell’s. It was insufferable. Fisketjon installed his own people, snubbed the award winning in house editor Joyce Johnson (who’d won the National Book Critics Circle award for her own memoir just three years earlier), and started signing up more books like McInerney’s. McInerney, meanwhile, showed up faithfully for cocktails wearing silk pants, holding a martini glass.

One irony: that fall, “Soldiers in Hiding” by Richard Wiley, a book from our team, was nominated for the PEN prize. But so too was Richard Ford’s “The Sportswriter,” which Fisketjon had edited at Knopf. Wiley won, but Fisketjon refused to acknowledge it or congratulate Wiley– even when we all went to Washington for the ceremony.

They canned me at the end of the year, which turned out to be the best thing that ever happened. That’s another story. Fisketjon wound up returning to Knopf when Navarre sold the company to Morgan Entrekin. Entrekin merged with Grove Press, and continues to publish books to this day. Fisketjon was a miserable excuse of an editor, but found a protector in Sonny Mehta at Knopf. For years I heard stories about his misdeeds, but ignored them. Really, who cared? But in this new awakening throughout the media, apparently someone did. For Fisketjon to get publicly axed, that’s big at Knopf. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Hey sometimes karma is slow. This one took 33 years, but it was worth the wait.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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