It’s the birthday of editor and publisher Robert Giroux, born in New Jersey (1914). He wanted to be a journalist, but as a student at Columbia he became interested in literature, inspired by the professors Mark Van Doren and Raymond Weaver. Weaver was the first person to read the manuscript of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd in 1919. This left a mark on Giroux — he liked the idea of being the one to discover a literary masterpiece.
The first major author that Giroux discovered was Jean Stafford. While traveling by train to Connecticut, Giroux took Stafford’s manuscript at random from his briefcase, and became so absorbed in reading it that he rode past his stop. When he got to know Jean Stafford, she introduced him to her then little-known husband, Robert Lowell, whose first collection of poems had been published privately by a small house and had gone largely unnoticed. Giroux snatched him up, and he became one of the most important American poets of the 20th century. Lowell then introduced him to a young woman named Flannery O’Connor, whom he also published.