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Publishing legend Sonny Mehta passes away

New Delhi: A legend at Alfred A. Knopf, where he was only its third editor-in-chief in its over 100-year history and which he considered the “best job in the world”, winner of lifetime achievement awards for publishing in India, the US and Britain, named Person of the Year by Publishers Weekly, and the brother-in-law of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, whose sister Gita Mehta he was married to, Sonny Mehta died in New York on Dec 31st. He was 77.

The son of Amrik Singh Mehta, one of independent India’s first diplomats, Sonny Mehta was educated at the Lawrence School Sanawar and Sevenoaks School in Britain, where he won a scholarship to Cambridge University, acquiring degrees in History and English Literature while also editing the Granta magazine.

Beginning his career in 1965 in London with editor and publisher Rupert Hart-Davis, Mehta moved to Granada Publishing in 1966 to co-found a new publishing house, Paladin. There, he commissioned books such as Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch” and opened up British readers to American writers with books like Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” that set in motion a genre known as gonjo journalism – written without claims of objectivity.

Moving to Pan Macmillan in 1972, he published writers like Jackie Collins and Douglas Adams who went on to become household names. At Pan, he also relaunched the Picador imprint and published a clutch of Booker Prize winners, among them Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Edmund White, Julian Barnes and Graham Swift.

In 1987 Mehta moved from London to New York to head Alfred A. Knopf as President and Editor-in-Chief, being hand-picked by his predecessor, Robert Gottlieb. He later became the Chairman of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Under Mehta, Knopf published six Nobel literature laureates, apart from several winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the Booker Prize, and the National Book Award. He also published the writings of US Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, British Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair and Pope John Paul II.

Mehta also helmed new translations of Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Robert Musil, and Albert Camus, as also bestsellers like Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” and the “Fifty Shades” trilogy of E.L. James.

The likes of Pantheon, Vintage Books, Schocken and Everyman’s Library coming aboard Knopf led Mehta to be described as the world’s most important anglophone publisher.

Mehta’s is a legacy that will endure for a long time to come. (IANS)

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