November 29, 2004

Hail & Farewell: Cork Smith . . .


Corlies “Cork” Smith, the Viking editor who discovered Thomas Pynchon and Tillie Olsen, and edited numerous major writers from Muriel Spark and William Trevor to Calvin Trillin and Jimmy Breslin, died last week at his home in Manhattan of emphysema. As a New York Times obituary by Charles McGrath observes, Smith “was one of the last of a breed. When he first went to work, in 1952, publishing was a still a profession for tweedy, Ivy League types who, in their younger days at least, were required to down multiple martinis at lunch and then put in an afternoon’s work. Mr. Smith fit the bill perfectly.” Although known for his highbrow writers, Smith was also “a shrewd judge of mass market titles,” says McGrath, and he would introduce himself by saying, “I have a good nose for vanguard fiction, I handle all the sports books, and I have a golden touch with commercial crap.” Smith was 75.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives