Remembering Daniel and Anna Keel
Sometime in the spring of 1997 I met my German publisher, Daniel Keel, for the first time. I was in Zürich for the publication of the German translation of my first novel, Blue Mondays. Daniel looked at me in his office and said to his co-workers, “He looks like a schoolboy.”
I probably looked like a schoolboy at the time. At the end of the meeting he asked, “Do you want to have dinner with me tonight?”
He took me to a famous restaurant in Zürich, Kronenhalle, where I met his lovely wife, Anna, and where we discussed literature, mysticism, love, and friendship. Casually Daniel told me that he had once eaten dinner with Federico Fellini there. He was Fellini’s friend and German publisher, but he didn’t seem to say this to impress me. Something just reminded him of Fellini and he wanted to share his thoughts with me.
At the end of the evening Daniel told me, “I would love to meet your girlfriend.”
That year the Keels were summering in Montauk. At his invitation I drove there from New York with my girlfriend at the time, and we ate lobster with the Keels at a rather empty restaurant.
Daniel told me about founding his publishing house, Diogenes, and that he had refused to sell it when it became successful, even though several big companies had expressed their interest. “I want to decide what books I’m going to publish,” he said over dinner.
His philosophy was clear: “I don’t publish books, I publish authors.”
Over the years I developed a friendship with Daniel and his wife. Often I came to their house in Zürich. A few times I visited him at the hotel in Sils-Maria in Switzerland where he used to spend his winter holidays. A famous hotel, Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse were regulars there, among other authors.
But Keel never stopped working, even while on vacation. He said, “When you stop working, you get sick.”
Once I had a conversation with a British editor who said, “Oh, I admire Diogenes. Once they put a banner at their stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It said, ‘Diogenes books are less boring.’”
Completely in sync with the official motto of the publishing house, a dictum by Voltaire: “Every style of writing is permitted but that which is tiresome.”
Keel was also the inventor of the worst-seller-list. He decided to publish a list of books published by him that had sold terribly. Not to punish the (dead) authors, but to illustrate that there is no necessary relationship between quality and bad sales.
Last year, his wife Anna passed away. Daniel died earlier this fall.
He was a true romantic and a great publisher. Not only did he believe that publishing literature is first a mission and then a business, he acted upon his belief.