PEN Remembers Writer and Publisher Morris Philipson
PEN is saddened by the loss of longtime member Morris Philipson, who passed away November 3 at his home, in Chicago, from congestive heart failure. He was 85. Philipson served as director of the academic publishing house University of Chicago Press for more than 30 years. His ventures there, some of which are ongoing, included a complete, critical edition of Giuseppe Verdi’s musical works; a 20-year project to complete a Historical Atlas of South Asia; and a translation of the Indian epic “Mahabharata.” Under his leadership, the press became a major publisher of translations and also reissued classics by writers including Andre Malraux and Isak Dinesen. In addition to many scholarly works and several editions of the Chicago Manual of Style, the press published a book that became a mainstream sensation during Philipson’s tenure, “A River Runs Through It and Other Stories,” by Norman Maclean. By the time of Philipson’s retirement in 2000, the publishing house had grown in sales from $4 million to $40 million.
Philipson was born and raised in New Haven, Conn. He was stationed in France during World War II, and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris after the war. He received both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in philosophy from the U. of C., was a Fulbright Scholar in Munich, and was awarded a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University. Before coming to the U. of C. Press, he taught at The Julliard School and Hunter College in New York and the U. of C. He also worked as an editor at Random House, Alfred A. Knopf and Basic Books. In addition to his publishing career, Philipson wrote several well-received novels, including “Bourgeois Anonymous,” “The Wallpaper Fox,” “A Man in Charge,” “Secret Understandings” and “Somebody Else’s Life.” He also wrote short stories and nonfiction.
Philipson was the first director of an academic press to receive the PEN American Center’s Publisher Citation. He also received the Association of American Publishers Curtis Benjamin Award for Creative Publishing, and an honor from the French government, that named him Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et des Letters for his service to French literature.
He was divorced from his first wife. His second wife, Susan Sacher Philipson, died in 1994 after 33 years of marriage. He is survived by two sons, Nicholas and Alex, and a daughter, Jenny.