Max Perkins: The Legendary Scribner’s Editor

Steve Newman Writer
11 min readDec 28, 2018

Perkins Handled Most of the New Wave of American Writers in the First Forty Years of the 20th Century…

Perkins. Image: Newsweek

Literary Editor, Max Perkins, was the man who made F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnin Rawlings, and so many more.

Every time Hemingway visited New York his first port of call was his publisher Charles Scribner’s & Sons — one of America’s most famous and prestigious publishing houses.

Scribner’s. New York Portraits

The company was based in a building of classical design on the corner of 48th Street and 5th Avenue. The ground floor, faced in shiny brass, housed the elegant Scribner Bookshop, which, in the words of John Hall Wheelock, the store’s manager in the 1930s (before he became an editor for the company) was a ‘Byzantine cathedral of books.’ Alongside the bookstore there was, as A. Scott Berg describes it, ‘an unobtrusive entrance, with, behind it, a vestibule which led to an elevator that clattered its way into the upper realms of the Scribner enterprise.

The second and third floors housed financial and business departments. Advertising was on the fourth floor. And on the fifth were the editorial rooms with bare white ceilings and walls, plain concrete floors, roll top desks, and bookcases. In this austere style, Scribner’s, a family business in its second generation, maintained itself as the most genteel and tradition-encrusted of all the American publishing houses.

Of course, Hemingway had not come to see just anyone at Scribner’s, he’d come to see Max Perkins, perhaps the most important and influential literary editor of the 20th century, who not only published Hemingway, but Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Erskine Caldwell.

William Maxwell Evarts Perkins was born on September 20th 1884, in Manhattan, at the Perkins’ family home on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 14th Street. He was the nominative heir of two distinguished American families — the Perkins and the Evarts — and, in the words of that greatest of American literary historians, Van Wyck Brooks, Max Perkins never fully ‘fought through’ the English Civil War that was so much a part of…

Steve Newman Writer

Playwright and Freelance Writer…