An Interview With Editor Daniel Menaker

Carolyn Hughes

Daniel Menaker's career moves are well known in publishing circles. After twenty six years at The New Yorker-he started as a fact checker and copy editor before serving as senior editor for twenty years-Menaker moved to the position of literary editor at Random House, where he worked for the past six years. Last month, he announced that he was joining HarperCollins Publishers as executive editor of the HarperCollins imprint. Menaker will report directly to Susan Weinberg, senior vice president and editorial director of HarperCollins, Perennial, and Quill.

While at Random House, Menaker edited the international bestseller Primary Colors by Anonymous (Joe Klein), and books by Vassily Aksyonov, U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins, Ted Conover, Deborah Garrison, George Saunders, Elizabeth Strout, and others.

Poets & Writers Magazine asked Menaker why, after six successful years, he decided to leave Random House.

Daniel Menaker: I received a very generous offer from a house that is in a wonderfully sort of ambitious and positive frame of mind. HarperCollins, under Jane Friedman, has made enormous progress. She has, in the time she has been at the helm, done a remarkable job in renovating this house. The offer was made to me, and I wanted to be a part of what has become an increasingly literary imprint. For example, Dan Halpern [editorial director of Ecco Press] came here not so long ago. Bringing minds and talents like his in is an example of what [HarperCollins] is up to.

P&W: How was the parting with Random House?

DM: I did as much with Random House as I could. I have no rancor about the place at all. Look, I learned all I know about editing from Ann Godoff [president and editor in chief of Random Trade Publishing Group]. But I have a terrific chance to grow at HarperCollins. Was it Fitzgerald who said "there are no second acts"? Well, my time at The New Yorker was my first act, Random House was my second act, and with HarperCollins, I think I'm on Act Two scene two.

P&W: While working full-time as an editor at Random House, you also managed to write and publish a novel [The Treatment, published by Simon & Schuster in 1998]. Do you have any intention to continue writing?

DM: Well, my schedule is still going to be the same. Let's face it, it's a hard job incorporating my own writing with editing. Frankly, there's no book project that I want to do right now. I don't know if I want to write another novel. I do work for Slate and The New Yorker ... that's what I have time to do. The truth is, I would have probably just gone off to be a writer if that's really what I wanted to do. I'm not sure I do.

P&W: Clearly, you're excited about the new job.

DM: Well, I've only been here for days, but I really think this is where I'll be staying. The truth is I continue to enjoy discovering talented authors and helping them get their books out there. Discovering new talents is one of the best aspects of being an editor.