Alfred A. Knopf

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Alfred A. Knopf
Knopf Borzoi 1920.png
Parent company Penguin Random House
Founded1915;109 years ago (1915)
Founder Blanche Wolf Knopf and Alfred A. Knopf Sr.
Country of originUnited States
Headquarters location New York City, U.S.
Official website OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ( /knɒpf/ ) is an American publishing house that was founded by Blanche Knopf and Alfred A. Knopf Sr. in 1915. [1] Blanche and Alfred traveled abroad regularly and were known for publishing European, Asian, and Latin American writers in addition to leading American literary trends. It was acquired by Random House in 1960, and is now part of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group division of Penguin Random House which is owned by the German conglomerate Bertelsmann. [2] [3]


The Knopf publishing house is associated with the borzoi logo in its colophon, which was designed by co-founder Blanche Knopf in 1925. [4]



Portrait of Blanche Knopf and Alfred A. Knopf Sr. by Carl Van Vechten in 1932 Portrait of Alfred Knopf and Blanche Knopf LCCN2004663143 (cropped).jpg
Portrait of Blanche Knopf and Alfred A. Knopf Sr. by Carl Van Vechten in 1932

Knopf was founded in 1915 by Alfred A. Knopf Sr. along with Blanche Knopf, on a $5,000 advance from his father, Samuel Knopf. [4] [5] The first office was located in New York's Candler Building. [6] The publishing house was officially incorporated in 1918, with Alfred Knopf as president, Blanche Knopf as vice president, and Samuel Knopf as treasurer. [7]

From the start, Knopf focused on European translations and high-brow works of literature. Among their initial publications were French author Émile Augier's Four Plays, Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol's Taras Bulba , Polish novelist Stanisław Przybyszewski's novel Homo Sapiens , and French writer Guy de Maupassant's Yvette, a Novelette, and Ten Other Stories. [6] During World War I these books were cheap to obtain and helped establish Knopf as an American firm publishing European works. [8] Their first bestseller was a new edition of Green Mansions , a novel by W. H. Hudson which went through nine printings by 1919 and sold over 20,000 copies. [6] Their first original American novel, The Three Black Pennys by Joseph Hergesheimer, was published in 1917. [6]


Advertisement by Knopf RR v01 d077 russian literature - advertisement by alfred a knopf.jpg
Advertisement by Knopf

With the start of the 1920s Knopf began using innovative advertising techniques to draw attention to their books and authors. Beginning in 1920, Knopf produced a chapbook for the purpose of promoting new books. The Borzoi was published periodically over the years, the first being a hardback called The Borzoi and sometimes quarterly as The Borzoi Quarterly. [9] For Floyd Dell's coming-of-age novel, Moon-Calf, they paid men to walk the streets of the financial and theatre districts dressed in artist costumes with sandwich boards. The placards had a copy of the book for browsing and directed interested buyers to local book shops. [10]

The unique look of their books along with their expertise in advertising their authors drew Willa Cather to leave her previous publisher Houghton Mifflin to join Alfred A. Knopf. [11] As she was still under contract for her novels, the Knopfs suggested publishing a collection of her short stories, Youth and the Bright Medusa , in 1920. [11] Cather was pleased with the results and the advertisement of the book in The New Republic and would go on to publish sixteen books with Knopf, including their first Pulitzer Prize winner, One of Ours . [11]

Before they had married, Alfred had promised Blanche that they would be equal partners in the publishing company, but it was clear by the company's fifth anniversary that this was not to be the case. Knopf published a celebratory fifth-anniversary book in which Alfred was the focus of anecdotes by authors and Blanche's name was only mentioned once to note that "Mrs. Knopf" had found a manuscript. This despite ample evidence from authors and others that Blanche was in fact the soul of the company. This was covered extensively in The Lady with the Borzoi by Laura Claridge. [1]

In 1923, Knopf also started publishing periodicals, beginning with The American Mercury , founded by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, which it published through 1934. [12]

Also in 1923, Knopf published Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet . Knopf had published Gibran's earlier works which had disappointing sales. In its first year, The Prophet only sold 1,159 copies. It would double sales the next year and keep doubling becoming one of the firm's most successful books. In 1965 the book sold 240,000 copies. [13] Approaching its 100 year anniversary in 2023, The Prophet has been translated into over 100 languages and has never gone out of print for Knopf.

In the 1920s, Knopf sometimes withdrew or censored their books when threatened by John Sumner, such as Floyd Dell's Janet March or George Egerton's 1899 translation of Hunger . [14] [15] [16]


Samuel Knopf died in 1932. William A. Koshland joined the company in 1934, and worked with the firm for more than fifty years, rising to take the positions of president and chairman of the board. Blanche became president in 1957 when Alfred became chairman of the board, and worked steadily for the firm until her death in 1966. Alfred Knopf retired in 1972, becoming chairman emeritus of the firm until his death in 1984. Alfred Knopf also had a summer home in Purchase, New York.


Following the Good Neighbor policy, Blanche Knopf visited South America in 1942, so the firm could start producing texts from there. She was one of the first publishers to visit Europe after World War II. Her trips, and those of other editors, brought in new writers from Europe, South America, and Asia. Alfred traveled to Brazil in 1961, which spurred a corresponding interest on his part in South America. Penn Publishing Company was acquired in 1943. The Knopfs' son, Alfred "Pat" Jr., was hired on as secretary and trade books manager after the war.


In 1957, editor Judith Jones joined Knopf. [17] Jones, who had discovered Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl while working at Doubleday, acquired Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking for Knopf. [18] Jones would remain with Knopf, retiring in 2011 as a senior editor and vice-president after a career that included working with John Updike and Anne Tyler. [18]

Pat Knopf left his parents' publishing company in 1959 to launch his own, Atheneum Publishers, with two other partners. [19] The story made the front page of The New York Times. [19] [20]

In a 1957 advertisement in The Atlantic Monthly , Alfred A. Knopf published the Borzoi Credo. The credo includes a list of what Knopf's beliefs for publishing including the statement that he never published an unworthy book. Among a list of beliefs listed is the final one—"I believe that magazines, movies, television, and radio will never replace good books." [21]

Acquisition by Random House

In 1960, Random House acquired Alfred A. Knopf. [4] It is believed that the decision to sell was prompted by Alfred A. Knopf Jr., leaving Knopf to found his own book company, Atheneum Books, in 1959. [22]

Since its founding, Knopf has paid close attention to design and typography, [23] employing notable designers and typographers including William Addison Dwiggins, Harry Ford, Steven Heller, Chip Kidd, Lorraine Louie, Peter Mendelsund, Bruce Rogers, Rudolf Ruzicka, and Beatrice Warde. Knopf books conclude with an unnumbered page titled "A Note on the Type", which describes the history of the typeface used for the book. In addition, Knopf books date the year of the book's current printing on the title page.

Knopf published textbooks until 1988, when Random House's schools and colleges division was sold to McGraw Hill. [24]

In 1991, Knopf revived the "Everyman's Library" series, originally published in England in the early 20th century. This series consists of classics of world literature in affordable hardcover editions. The series has grown over the years to include lines of Children's Classics and Pocket Poets.

Random House was acquired by Bertelsmann AG in 1998. [4] In late 2008 and early 2009, the Knopf Publishing Group merged with Doubleday to form the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. [25] Random House has been owned since its 2013 merger of Penguin Group by Penguin Random House, a joint venture between Bertelsmann (53%) and Pearson PLC (47%).

Many of Knopf's hardcover books are published later as Vintage paperbacks. Vintage Books is a sister imprint of Random House. [26]

In October 2012, Bertelsmann entered into talks with rival conglomerate Pearson plc, over the possibility of combining their respective publishing companies, Random House and Penguin Group. The merger was completed on 1 July 2013 and the new company is Penguin Random House. [27] Bertelsmann owned 53% of the joint venture while Pearson owned 47%. [28] At the time of the acquisition the combined companies controlled 25% of the book business, with more than 10,000 employees and 250 independent publishing imprints and with about $3.9 billion in annual revenues. [28] The move to consolidate was to provide leverage against and battle the shrinking state of bookstores. [28]

In 2015, Knopf celebrated its 100th anniversary by publishing a commemorative book, Alfred A. Knopf, 1915–2015: A Century of Publishing. [4]

Notable people

Notable editors and publishers

While there have been many notable editors at Knopf there have only been four editors-in-chief: Alfred A. Knopf, Sr., Robert Gottlieb, Sonny Mehta (who died in 2019) and Jordan Pavlin. [29] Other influential editors at Knopf included Harold Strauss (Japanese literature), Herbert Weinstock (biography of musical composers), Judith Jones (culinary texts), Peter Mendelsund (art director and book cover designer) [30] as well as Bobbie Bristol, Angus Cameron, Ann Close, Charles Elliott, Gary Fisketjon, Lee Goerner, Ashbel Green, Carol Brown Janeway, Michael Magzis, Anne McCormick, Nancy Nicholas, Daniel Okrent, Regina Ryan, Sophie Wilkins, and Victoria Wilson. Knopf also employed literary scouts to good advantage. [31]

Notable authors

Alfred A. Knopf has published books by many notable authors, including John Banville, Carl Bernstein, Elizabeth Bowen, Frederick Buechner, Albert Camus, Robert Caro, Willa Cather, John Cheever, Julia Child, Bill Clinton, Michael Crichton, Miguel Covarrubias, Don DeLillo, Joan Didion, Bret Easton Ellis, James Ellroy, Martin Gardner, Kahlil Gibran, Lee H. Hamilton, Kazuo Ishiguro, John Keegan, Nella Larsen, John le Carré, Jack London, Gabriel García Márquez, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami, Cynthia Ozick, Christopher Paolini, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, Anne Rice, Dorothy Richardson, Stephen M. Silverman, Oswald Spengler, Susan Swan, Donna Tartt, Barbara W. Tuchman, Anne Tyler, John Updike, Andrew Vachss, James D. Watson, and Elinor Wylie.


2013 Pulitzer Prize [32] Poetry Stag's Leap Sharon Olds
2011 Pulitzer Prize Fiction A Visit from the Goon Squad Jennifer Egan
2010 Pulitzer Prize Biography or AutobiographyThe First Tycoon T.J. Stiles
2007 Pulitzer Prize Fiction The Road Cormac McCarthy
2005 MHA Best Book Award [33] History Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling Richard Bushman
2005 Pulitzer Prize Biography or Autobiography de Kooning: An American Master Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan
2004 Pulitzer Prize PoetryWalking to Martha's Vineyard Franz Wright
2003 Newbery Honor [34] Fiction Hoot Carl Hiaasen
2003 Pulitzer Prize Biography or Autobiography Master of the Senate Robert A. Caro
2002 Pulitzer Prize Fiction Empire Falls Richard Russo
2001 Pulitzer Prize History Founding Brothers Joseph J. Ellis
1999 Pulitzer Prize PoetryBlizzard of One Mark Strand
1998 Pulitzer Prize Biography or Autobiography Personal History Katharine Graham
1997 Pulitzer Prize History Original Meanings Jack N. Rakove
1996 Pulitzer Prize FictionIndependence Day Richard Ford
1996 Pulitzer Prize Biography or Autobiography God: A Biography Jack Miles
1996 Pulitzer Prize History William Cooper's Town Alan Taylor
1995 Pulitzer Prize PoetryThe Simple Truth Philip Levine
1995 Pulitzer Prize General Nonfiction The Beak of the Finch Jonathan Weiner
1993 Pulitzer Prize History The Radicalism of the American Revolution Gordon S. Wood
1992 Pulitzer Prize Fiction A Thousand Acres Jane Smiley
1991 Pulitzer Prize HistoryA Midwife's Tale Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
1991 Pulitzer Prize Fiction Rabbit at Rest John Updike
1991 Pulitzer Prize Poetry Near Changes Mona Van Duyn
1989 Pulitzer Prize Biography or AutobiographyOscar Wilde Richard Ellmann
1989 Pulitzer Prize Fiction Breathing Lessons Anne Tyler
1988 Pulitzer Prize History The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846-1876 Robert V. Bruce
1988 Pulitzer Prize HistoryPartial AccountsWilliam Meredith
1988 Pulitzer Prize Fiction Beloved Toni Morrison
1987 Pulitzer Prize History Voyagers to the West Bernard Bailyn
1987 Pulitzer Prize Fiction A Summons to Memphis Peter Taylor
1986 Pulitzer Prize Biography or Autobiography Louise Bogan Elizabeth Frank
1986 Pulitzer Prize General Nonfiction Common Ground J. Anthony Lukas
1982 Pulitzer Prize Fiction Rabbit Is Rich John Updike
1981 Pulitzer Prize Biography or Autobiography Peter the Great Robert K. Massie
1981 Pulitzer Prize General Nonfiction Fin-de-Siècle Vienna Carl E. Schorske
1980 Pulitzer Prize HistoryBeen In the Storm So Long Leon F. Litwack
1979 Pulitzer Prize Fiction The Stories of John Cheever John Cheever
1975 Pulitzer Prize Biography or Autobiography The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York Robert A. Caro
1973 Pulitzer Prize History People of Paradox Michael Kammen
1970 Pulitzer Prize Biography or AutobiographyHuey Long T. Harry Williams
1967 Pulitzer Prize History Exploration and Empire William H. Goetzmann
1965 Pulitzer Prize Fiction The Keepers of the House Shirley Ann Grau
1964 Pulitzer Prize General Nonfiction Anti-Intellectualism in American Life Richard Hofstadter
1962 Pulitzer Prize HistoryThe Triumphant Empire: Thunder-Clouds Gather in the West Lawrence H. Gipson
1961 Pulitzer Prize Biography or AutobiographyCharles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War David Herbert
1960 Pulitzer Prize PoetryHeart's Needle W. D. Snodgrass
1956 Pulitzer Prize History The Age of Reform Richard Hofstadter
1955 Pulitzer Prize HistoryCollected Poems: Wallace Stevens Wallace Stevens
1951 Pulitzer Prize Fiction The Town Conrad Richter
1950 Pulitzer Prize Biography or AutobiographyJohn Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy Samuel Flagg Bemis
1946 Pulitzer Prize Biography or AutobiographySon of the Wilderness Linnie Marsh Wolfe
1945 Pulitzer Prize Novel A Bell for Adano John Hersey
1945 Pulitzer Prize Biography or AutobiographyGeorge Bancroft: Brahmin Rebel Russel Blaine Nye
1944 Pulitzer Prize Biography or AutobiographyThe American Leonardo: A Life of Samuel F. B. Morse Carleton Mabee
1934 Pulitzer Prize PoetryCollected Verse Robert Hillyer
1927 Pulitzer Prize PoetryFiddler's Farewell Leonora Speyer
1923 Pulitzer Prize Novel One of Ours Willa Cather
2009 National Book Award [35] NonfictionThe First Tycoon T.J. Stiles
2005 National Book Award Nonfiction The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion
2002 National Book Award Nonfiction Master of the Senate Robert A. Caro
1997 National Book Award NonfictionAmerican Sphinx The Character of Thomas Jefferson Joseph J. Ellis
1991 National Book Award NonfictionHow We Die Sherwin B. Nuland
1992 National Book Award Fiction All the Pretty Horses Cormac McCarthy
1991 National Book Award Poetry What Work Is Philip Levine
1989 National Book Award Fiction Spartina John Casey
1985 National Book Award Nonfiction Common Ground J. Anthony Lukas
1983 National Book Award HistoryVoices of Protest Alan Brinkley
1982 National Book Award Fiction Rabbit is Rich John Updike
1981 National Book Award First NovelSister Wolf Ann Arensberg
1981 National Book Award Fiction Paperback The Stories of John Cheever John Cheever
1981 National Book Award General Nonfiction China Men Maxine Hong Kingston
1981 National Book Award History Paperback Been in the Storm So Long Leon F. Litwack
1980 National Book Award Autobiography (Hardcover)By Myself Lauren Bacall
1980 National Book Award Current Interest (Hardcover)Julia Child and More Company Julia Child
1980 National Book Award History (Paperback) A Distant Mirror Barbara W. Tuchman
1980 National Book Award First Novel Birdy William Wharton
1977 National Book Award Contemporary ThoughtThe Uses of Enchantment Bruno Bettelheim
1976 National Book Award Fiction J R William Gaddis
1975 National Book Award Contemporary AffairsAll God's Dangers Theodore Rosengarten
1974 National Book Award BiographyMacaulayJohn Clive
1972 National Book Award PoetryThe Collected Works of Frank O'Hara Frank O'Hara
1970 National Book Award History and BiographyHuey Long T. Harry Williams
1967 National Book Award History and BiographyThe Enlightenment, Vol. 1 Peter Gay
1964 National Book Award Fiction The Centaur John Updike
1962 National Book Award Fiction The Moviegoer Walker Percy
1961 National Book Award Fiction The Waters of Kronos Conrad Richter
1955 National Book Award PoetryThe Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens Wallace Stevens
1951 National Book Award Poetry The Auroras of Autumn Wallace Stevens
2017 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Kazuo Ishiguro
2013 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Alice Munro
2007 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Doris Lessing
2006 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Orhan Pamuk
2002 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Imre Kertész
2001 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature V.S. Naipaul
1999 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Günter Grass
1993 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Toni Morrison
1991 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Nadine Gordimer
1982 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Gabriel García Márquez
1980 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Czeslaw Milosz
1972 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Heinrich Boll
1968 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Yasunari Kawabata
1965 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Mikhail Sholokhov
1964 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Jean-Paul Sartre (declined)
1961 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Ivo Andric
1957 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Albert Camus
1955 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Halldor K. Laxness
1947 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature André Gide
1944 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Johannes V. Jensen
1939 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Frans E. Sillanpaa
1929 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Thomas Mann
1928 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Sigrid Undset
1924 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Wladyslaw S. Reymont
1920 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Knut Hamsun
1916 Nobel Prize LiteratureNobel Prize in Literature Verner von Heidenstam

The logo for Knopf is a Russian wolfhound or Borzoi. [1] Blanche Knopf suggested the Borzoi for the logo to imply motion and the logo was used on both the spine and the title page of their books. [1]

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Sources cited

  • Claridge, Laura (2016). The lady with the Borzoi : Blanche Knopf, literary tastemaker extraordinaire (First ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN   9780374114251. OCLC   908176194.