“When should we start allowing what those people think to guide our publishing, or the tempo of our publishing? We certainly have to have a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, as the document [the Declaration of Independence] said, but we certainly can’t start now to let them tell us what to do and what not to do, or give us guidance as to what we publish and when….I don’t expect creative artists who do books for children to think about children all the time. They never do—the really great ones—because they do what they do for themselves. (I am certainly at my most banal this morning, I’m sorry.) But I have to worry about the children. I mean, we, here in the department. And the fact that we have published children’s books for children (not other adults) and that we have NEVER NEVER NEVER been inhibited by ‘will this bore adults, will this expose us to cynical criticism’ makes it impossible for me not to go on like this to you.”
-- Letter to Maurice Sendak, 1/31/1963
Ursula Nordstrom worked with some of the best children's author's in the mid-twentieth century and was responsible for bringing so freaking many classics into the world. Stuart Little? Check. Where the Wild Things Are? Check. Danny and the Dinosaur? Check. Frances? Check.
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom was such a delightful glimpse into the publishing world, especially the publishing world of children's books in the mid-1900s. She never condescended to her audience, and she fought the disapproving pearl-clutchers of her day. She led the push in children's publishing away from simplistic morality tales toward genuinely great story-telling.
Nordstrom is the most delightful blend of crochety and tender in her letters -- willing to overlook the quirks of authors so long as they continued to produce, no matter how slowly. She coaxes and scolds in equal measure. She herself wrote what would now be called a young adult novel, so she knew their pain personally.
“I know darn well some of the authors will think it very unattractive for their editor to have written anything. But as a matter of fact trying to do it has made me a slightly better and enormously more sympathetic editor!”
-- Letter to Bettina Ehrlich, 2/11/1960
Nordstrom was the first female vice president AND female director that Harper's had, and she fought the typically sexist views you'd expect from the male-dominated publishing world of the time.
“I phoned Morely Safer’s office and asked when the segment with you would be telecast on 60 Minutes. I am tired of having to watch the whole program every minute every week! The young woman who answered said the interview was still being edited and thus had not been scheduled, but she took my name and phone number and said she would let me know when it was definitely scheduled. ‘Now whose secretary are you?’ she asked pleasantly—female chauvinistic sow. ‘I am Mr. Sendak’s editor,’ I said with simple dignity. I don’t plan to be buried but it would be nice on my tombstone…. ‘She was Mr. Sendak’s editor.’”
-- Letter to Maurice Sendak, 2/16/1973
She was relentless and unstoppable, and I really want a poster of her to put on my wall now.