Lawrence, Seymour

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Editor and publisher who worked with Katherine Anne Porter on SHIP OF FOOLS.

From the description of Papers. 1955-1980. (University of Maryland Libraries). WorldCat record id: 23672961

Seymour Lawrence (1926-1994) served as the longtime editor and publisher of Kurt Vonnegut's works through Seymour Lawrence, Inc.

From the description of Seymour Lawrence publishing files related to Kurt Vonnegut, 1966-1983. (University of Delaware Library). WorldCat record id: 668400775

Seymour Lawrence (1926–1994) served as the longtime editor and publisher of Kurt Vonnegut's works through Seymour Lawrence, Inc.

Seymour Lawrence, born on February 11, 1926, first became interested in publishing while attending Harvard University. From 1945 to 1953 Lawrence was an editor and publisher of Wake, a Harvard literary journal. Following his graduation from Harvard, Lawrence pursued a publishing career in Boston. From 1952 to 1954 he worked as special assistant to the editor at the Atlantic Monthly . In 1954 Lawrence moved to the Atlantic Monthly Press, and a year later became the Press's director and editor-in-chief. Lawrence left this position in 1964 after arguing unsuccessfully for unexpurgated publication of J.P. Donleavy's "A Singular Man."

Lawrence's next position was at Alfred A. Knopf in New York, where he became editorial vice president. Discouraged by the weekly commute to New York, Lawrence started his own publishing house in Boston in 1965.

With the creation of Seymour Lawrence, Inc., Lawrence and his wife, Merloyd, became independent publishers. The Lawrences contacted authors and developed their own list of books, but they published in association with a large New York publishing house, Dell, and its hardcover division, Delacorte. Dell and Delacorte financed production, promotion, and distribution in return for a share of the profits.

Lawrence first contacted Kurt Vonnegut in 1966. Vonnegut, whose then current book had sold only 1,500 copies, did not have a regular hardback publisher. By January 30, 1967, he had signed a three book contract with Seymour Lawrence, Inc. Lawrence served as Vonnegut's editor and publisher for over twenty years.

During their association, Lawrence maintained a non-interference policy and functioned more as a friend than an editor to Vonnegut. Their years of correspondence reveal a relationship characterized by humor, mutual support, and honesty. Lawrence remained Vonnegut's editor until the publication of Bluebeard in 1987.

After a brief association with Dutton, Lawrence moved his imprint to Houghton Mifflin in February 1988. Seymour Lawrence died at the age of 67 in January, 1994.

Frede, Richard. "Seymour Lawrence." Publishers Weekly. Volume 205, no. 18. May 6, 1974. pp. 12-13. International Year Book and Statesmen's Who's Who. East Grinstead, England: Kelly's Directories, 1990. p. 368. "Seymour Lawrence, 67, Publisher For a Variety of Eminent Authors." The New York Times. January 7, 1994.

From the guide to the Seymour Lawrence publishing files related to Kurt Vonnegut, 1966–1983, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

Seymour Lawrence, an independent publisher of important American and international writers, was born on February 11, 1926, in New York City, the son of Jack and Sophie L. Lawrence. He graduated from Harvard University in 1948 and began his career in publishing by becoming a college traveler, or academic trade representative, for the Van Nostrand Company, a publisher of college textbooks. In 1950 he became a special assistant to the editor of Atlantic Monthly and by 1952 had risen to the position of associate editor of Atlantic Monthly Press. In succession, he became director and editor-in-chief for Atlantic Monthly . He left Atlantic Monthly in 1964 to become editorial vice-president for Alfred Knopf, Inc., another highly respected publishing house.

He launched his own personal imprint, Seymour Lawrence, Inc., in 1965, with only one book, The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy. His imprint, a small separate publishing division under his name, allowed Lawrence to assume responsibility for finding, nurturing, and publishing new writers. He was well-known throughout the publishing industry as someone who would provide much needed support, whether financial or psychological, to the writers he had discovered. His imprint was a division of the larger publishing company Dell/Delacorte for seventeen years until the company declined to renew his co-publishing agreement in 1982. He continued his career and imprint with the publishing company, E. P. Dutton, Inc., for six years and, in 1988, affiliated with Houghton Mifflin.

Among the distinguished authors published by Mr. Lawrence were Katherine Anne Porter, Kurt Vonnegut, J. P. Donleavy, Thomas Berger, Richard Brautigan, William Saroyan, and Frank Conroy. He also published the works of four authors who won the Nobel Prize for Literature: Miguel Ángel Asturias, Camillo José Cela, Pablo Neruda, and George Seferis. Seymour Lawrence was responsible for publishing such memorable books as: Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter, Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan, Going After Caciato by Tim O'Brien, Little Big Man by Thomas Berger, Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda, and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

He married Merloyd Ludington on June 21, 1952, and they had two children, a daughter, Macy, and a son, Nicholas. He was divorced in February 1984 and in later years lived with Joan Williams, a novelist and short story writer.

He died on January 4, 1994, from complications suffered during a heart attack which struck him while he was in Florida. The New York Times obituary of Lawrence included the following characterization:

Mr. Lawrence's authors described him as a publisher who was passionately committed to writers and writing, but who was not always tolerant of "misguided reviewers" or the publishing bureaucracy.

From the guide to the Seymour Lawrence papers, 1955-1980, 1955-1969, (Literature and Rare Books)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Lawrence, Seymour. Office files of The American Poetry Review, 1974. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Seymour Lawrence publishing files related to Kurt Vonnegut, 1966–1983 University of Delaware Library - Special Collections
referencedIn Vonnegut mss., 1941-2007 Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
creatorOf Asturias, Miguel Angel, 1899-1974. Miguel Angel Asturias papers, 1964-1969. Princeton University Library
referencedIn Porter, Paul. Paul Porter papers, 1903-2009 (bulk 1977-2002). University of Maryland (College Park, Md.). Libraries
referencedIn Porter, Paul. Paul Porter papers, 1903-2009 (bulk 1977-2002). University of Maryland (College Park, Md.). Libraries
referencedIn Gass, William H., 1924-. William H. Gass collection, 1961-1985. Johns Hopkins University, Sheridan Libraries and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library
referencedIn Katherine Anne Porter papers, 1842-1980, 1932-1975 University of Maryland (College Park, Md.). Libraries
referencedIn E. E. Cummings letters to Elizabeth Cummings Qualey, 1917-1963. Houghton Library
creatorOf Lawrence, Seymour. Seymour Lawrence publishing files related to Kurt Vonnegut, 1966-1983. University of Delaware Library, Hugh M Morris Library
creatorOf Lawrence, Seymour. Papers. University of Maryland (College Park, Md.). Libraries
creatorOf Porter, Katherine Anne, 1890-1980. Papers. University of Maryland (College Park, Md.). Libraries
referencedIn Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962. Additional papers, 1917-1962 and undated. Houghton Library
referencedIn Levin, Harry. Harry Levin Papers. 1920-1995. Houghton Library
creatorOf Stout, Janis P. Papers. University of Maryland (College Park, Md.). Libraries
referencedIn Gordon Cairnie papers, 1922-1973. Houghton Library
referencedIn Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962. Papers, 1870-1969 Houghton Library
creatorOf Seymour Lawrence papers, 1955-1980, 1955-1969 University of Maryland (College Park, Md.). Libraries
referencedIn Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962. Additional papers, 1870-1969. Houghton Library
creatorOf Beattie, Ann. Papers of Ann Beattie [manuscript], 1985-1986. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Humphrey, William. William Humphrey Papers, 1932-1992 (bulk 1944-1992). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Seymour Lawrence Collection, 1952-1992 University of Mississippi
referencedIn V. R. Lang papers, 1929-1974 (inclusive) 1943-1959 (bulk). Houghton Library
creatorOf Guillén, Jorge, 1893-1984. Jorge Guillén archives, 1951-1964 (bulk 1963-1964). Pennsylvania State University Libraries
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Asturias, Miguel Angel, 1899-1974. person
associatedWith Beattie, Ann. person
correspondedWith Cairnie, Gordon. person
correspondedWith Cummings, E. E. (Edward Estlin), 1894-1962 person
associatedWith Gass, William H., 1924- person
associatedWith Glenway Wescott person
associatedWith Guillén, Jorge, 1893-1984. person
associatedWith Humphrey, William. person
associatedWith Katherine Anne Porter person
correspondedWith Lang, V. R., 1924-1956 person
associatedWith Levin, Harry, 1912-1994 person
associatedWith Mark Van Doren person
associatedWith Porter, Katherine Anne, 1890-1980. person
associatedWith Porter, Paul person
correspondedWith Porter, Paul. person
associatedWith Seymour Lawrence person
associatedWith Stout, Janis P. person
associatedWith Van Doren, Mark, 1894-1972. person
associatedWith Vonnegut, Kurt person
associatedWith Westcott, Glenway. person
Place Name Admin Code Country


Active 1985

Active 1986



Ark ID: w6jm2dwc

SNAC ID: 2418432