Reflections on the life and legacy of inspirational publisher and mentor Claire L’Enfant
by Heather McCallum
I am quite sure that my experiences are echoed by many publishers… Her influence spreads out across many parts of the publishing world.
Last year, around Christmas time Claire L’Enfant and I had an exchange about the latest news story on the meaning and authorship of The Voynich Manuscript. It had been a favourite topic of ours since I gave Claire a copy of the Yale book on the same. Claire and Nick were immediately entranced, were impressed by Yale’s production, of course (!), and enjoyed delving into the backstory and theories, wild and otherwise. Claire and I shared a love of medieval history as well as mysterious and beautiful ancient texts and books. Our exchanges prompted me to think about and eventually commission a big book on Medieval Magic Books (Anne Lawrence-Mathers, forthcoming).
Claire passed away peacefully on 22nd August.
I met Claire in 1990 when she was Senior Editor for History at Routledge and I joined as Editorial Assistant for Classics and Philosophy. Claire had already had a distinguished career as a History Editor, especially at Harper Collins/Unwin Hyman and was unusual in being equally happy with trade and academic publishing. At Routledge Claire had successfully welded together the Unwin Hyman, Croom Helm and Routledge Kegan Paul History lists into one and was steadily building a game changing textbook programme for undergraduates and A-level students. Early in 1993 I applied for and I was lucky that Claire appointed me to the position of Development Editor for British, French and American Area Studies and I then reported directly to her. I worked for Claire for the next six years, during which time Claire handed over the reins of the whole of the Routledge History list to me as she moved up to be Editorial Director.
Claire was the most amazing of managers. Always a little mysterious with her twinkly eyes and careful expression, she had a huge heart and was the kindest, most open, supportive and trusting of mentors. At the same time she was extremely shrewd and she could be tough when she had to be. I learned a huge amount from her about building lists, acquiring books, developing and loving authors, shaping manuscripts and – of course – making it all work financially. So, it was Claire that instilled in her team an understanding of backlist, the real costings of books, the balancing of different types of books across a programme while not tipping into incoherence, researching and understanding the market, working together positively as a team, the value of mission driven publishing and a great deal more. We shared a deep belief in the importance of academic publishing, its fundamental value and how it could both inform and change people and thinking.
Claire gave me back History. I stopped studying it at school when I was 13 because, unfortunately, the teaching was very dull. I had not given it much thought in over 10 years. I truly couldn’t believe how wonderful and exciting History is. I couldn’t get enough of it and this went well beyond my working life as History became an important part of me and my view of the world. How very very privileged I have been over the years to find out about so many different eras and subjects that I’d never have known ab
out. It has been remarkable to meet so many historians and hear about their ideas and research, to understand other times and to be introduced to people globally.
Personally, Claire never doubted me and thus gave me confidence. Her absolute belief in me as I weathered even difficult times was foundational.
I am quite sure that my experiences are echoed by many publishers past and present who have worked with and for Claire. Her influence spreads out across many parts of the publishing world.
Claire radiated goodness. She embodied so many of the special values of publishing and ‘why we do it’. In our part of the publishing world, for me, it’s about excellence, knowledge, ideas and, for Yale especially, delighting people with truly beautiful, well written and excellently crafted books. I owe her so very much professionally and personally. I am very grateful to have known her and to have been able to talk Voynich and so much more over so many years.
Heather McCallum • Managing Director & Publisher • Yale University Press London