Alfred A. Knopf announced Thursday that Reagan Arthur is its new publisher, succeeding Sonny Mehta, who died at 77 in December after more than three decades at the helm of the august literary imprint.
Arthur, 55, becomes just the fourth head of Knopf, following Knopf himself, Robert Gottlieb and Mehta. The imprint, which has published presidents and popes along with several Nobel Prize winners, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015.
Gottlieb, who left Knopf to become the editor of The New Yorker, had chosen Mehta as his successor, in 1987, and last fall Mehta had identified Arthur as his first choice to replace him. Arthur said that while she had long admired Mehta’s work, she didn’t know him well personally, and that “the opportunity came as a surprise.”
She went to lunch with Mehta last fall to discuss the possibility of moving to Knopf. “I went in thinking that I do publish pretty commercial stuff in addition to literary stuff,” she said, “and that’s exactly what he pointed to as the strengths of Knopf: having that small-c catholic approach to reading and a basic love of storytelling.”
Arthur had previously been at Little, Brown — for the past seven years as senior vice president and publisher, and before that as a senior editor and then the head of her own imprint there. Authors she has published include Kate Atkinson, Michael Connelly, Rachel Cusk, Tina Fey, Malcolm Gladwell and David Sedaris. A more recent success at Little, Brown is Ronan Farrow’s “Catch and Kill.”
Arthur will be executive vice president and publisher of Knopf as well as the Pantheon and Schocken imprints at Penguin Random House, and will begin in her new role on Feb. 11.
“I love Little, Brown,” she said. “I wasn’t hankering for something else. It’s been a very emotional time for me to think about leaving.” But after nearly 20 successful years at the publisher, Arthur said she’s ready for “a different set of opportunities and challenges,” and that knowing some of the editors at her new house should make the transition easier.
“I worked with a couple of them way back when, in our early days,” she said, referring to the start of her career, at the publisher St. Martin’s, “and there’s not an editor there whose books I haven’t read at one point or another and loved.”
The publisher also said Thursday that Maya Mavjee is the new president and publisher for the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. She will begin on March 2, returning to Penguin Random House after a year as president of publishing strategy at Macmillan.
Arthur has seen up close the many changes in the publishing industry over recent years — she cited the rise of e-books and audiobooks as two of the most momentous, as well as the increase of “competing claims on readers’ attention.” The key to succeeding in that environment, she said, “is having the material itself, and obviously the great tradition of Knopf is these incredible writers and voices.”
Given how few people have sat atop Knopf, its publishers tend to become synonymous with its already iconic name. Arthur said she’s just eager to work with her new colleagues.
“I’m less interested in putting my own personal stamp on anything,” she said, “than in continuing what’s already a great publishing tradition.”