One of the “world’s best editors” who is credited with revolutionising the paperback business, Ajai Singh, aka Sonny Mehta, passed away at the age of 77. Sonny was the editor-in-chief of Alfred A Knopf and chairman of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Condoling the death of his borther-in-law, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik took to Twitter stating, “I am deeply grieved by the passing away of my brother in law Sonny Mehta ( Husband of my sister Gita Mehta). He was one of the world’s best editors and an extremely civilized person. May his soul rest in peace.”
I am deeply grieved by the passing away of my brother in law Sonny Mehta ( Husband of my sister Gita Mehta). He was one of the world’s best editors and an extremely civilized person. May his soul rest in peace.
— Naveen Patnaik (@Naveen_Odisha) December 31, 2019
Born in 1942, Sonny completed his primary education from both India and the United Kingdom. He later went on to win an open scholarship to Cambridge University and acquired two degrees — History and English Literature. It is here that he met his future wife Gita Mehta, then Gita Patnaik — author and documentary film-maker.
Sonny began his career in publishing when he joined Rupert Hart Davis in London in 1965. Within a year, he moved shifted to Granada Publishing where he co-founded a new publishing house — Paladin — with a focus on the paperback.
In the 1960s and 70s, Sonny Mehta had shaken up the English publishing industry by pushing the paperback as the new hardback. The stately hardback edition, which traditionally came first off the press, was intended mainly for libraries, institutions, people who view books as drawing room decor. Mehta targeted an emerging segment of educated youth who wanted cheaper versions.
At the Paladin, Sonny published a string of authors, mostly American, such as Tim Leary and Hunter S. Thompson. Later, he joined UK publisher Pan Books and relaunched Picador imprint, publishing a host of Booker Prize winners including Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Edmund White, Julian Barnes, Graham Swift. The Time of London described his tenure as producing “the Picador Generation”.
Sonny moved to New York in 1987 to head the legendary American literary imprint Alfred A. Knopf as President and Editor-in-Chief. He was handpicked by his predecessor, Robert Gottlieb.
Under Sonny, Knopf published six Nobel literature laureates, numerous Pulitzer Prize winners, Booker Prize and National Book Award winners. He is also known for publishing new translations of book by Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Robert Musil and Albert Camus.
In his interview with Vanity Fair, Sonny had said, “On a good day, I am still convinced I have the best job in the world.”
The prolific editor was honoured with several awards including, Lifetime Achievement Awards for publishing in India, the UK and the United States, and was named 2015 Person of the Year by Publishers Weekly.
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