Literary Book Editor

Photo: Courtesy the Estate of John Ferrone

A quiet giant in the publishing industry, John Ferrone worked with such illustrious and diverse authors as Eudora Welty, James Beard, Anaïs Nin and Alice Walker. He started his career at Dell in New York in 1953 before moving to Harcourt, Brace & World (later Harcourt Brace Jovanovich), where he stayed for 35 years until his retirement.

John Robert Ferrone, ’50, MA ’52, died in Old Bridge, N.J., on April 10. He was 91.

Ferrone grew up in New Jersey and served in World War II. He attended Colorado College before switching to Stanford, where he studied creative writing with Wallace Stegner. At Dell, Ferrone was instrumental in acquiring well-known titles for reprinting in the new mass paperback and trade paperback formats. At Harcourt, he inherited Anaïs Nin from her previous editor, who had died. Aware that she had penned erotic tales for a private client, Ferrone pressed Nin for more. She delivered 800 pages, which Ferrone edited down to 15 stories and published as the bestselling Delta of Venus. 

Ferrone had a close relationship with Eudora Welty, accompanying the Southern writer to Washington, D.C., in 1986 when President Reagan presented her with the National Medal of Arts. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, edited by Ferrone, won the National Book Award for paperback fiction in 1983. That same year, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which Ferrone helped shepherd into print, received both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. A lifelong friend of James Beard, the legendary cookbook author and food writer, Ferrone served as Beard’s unofficial editor. A talented chef himself, he would polish Beard’s writing, and the pair frequently traveled and prepared meals together.

Author Deirdre Bair says, “I first came across John Ferrone when my first book was being published by Harcourt. In those days we had three-martini lunches, and it was after one that my editor and I were rollicking down the hall until we reached John’s office, which we passed with a reverential hush. Fifteen years later, I was working on my biography of Anaïs Nin, and John was a great help. . . . He was an editor who truly knew how to handle writers of every kind.”

Ferrone’s partner of 43 years, Johan Theron, died in 2002.


Julie Muller Mitchell, '79, is a writer in San Francisco.