In the preface to his novel “Muse,” an affectionate sendup of the publishing industry, Jonathan Galassi pines for a bygone era when “literature was life” and “books were revered, hoarded, collected.”
During a publishing career that covers more than four decades, Mr. Galassi, 68, the publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, has often been hailed as one of the last living specimens of a dying breed of scholarly, old-fashioned publishing executives. A translator and poet who studied at Harvard with Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, Mr. Galassi, who joined FSG in 1986, has helped to shape the careers of some of our era’s most celebrated writers: Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Marilynne Robinson, Jamaica Kincaid and Mario Vargas Llosa, among others.
But after nearly 20 years as FSG’s publisher, Mr. Galassi felt it was time to appoint a successor. Later this year, Mitzi Angel, 43, the publisher of Faber & Faber in London, will join FSG as its new publisher and senior vice president, and will oversee the company’s editorial and marketing operations.
Mr. Galassi, who will remain as president and continue to acquire and edit books, summed up his thinking, naturally, by quoting the Italian novelist Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.
“There’s that great line from ‘The Leopard’ where one of the characters says, ‘If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change,’” he said. “Publishing has changed radically in the last 15 years, and we need to hold to the core of what we’re doing, but change what we’re publishing and how we publish.”
In appointing Ms. Angel, FSG is opting for cultural continuity rather than a radical reinvention. Ms. Angel is in many ways a natural choice for the role. She worked at FSG for seven years before she became the publisher of Faber in 2015. At FSG, she edited acclaimed books like Ben Lerner’s “10:04,” Rachel Cusk’s “Outline” and Donald Antrim’s “The Emerald Light in the Air.” When she was editorial director of Fourth Estate, she worked with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Rivka Galchen, James Gleick, Yiyun Li and Siddhartha Mukherjee.
“She has an independent sensibility, and that’s half the game in publishing,” Mr. Galassi said.
Ms. Angel said she aims to maintain FSG’s stature while revitalizing its author ranks by recruiting young, emerging writers.
The literary world will be watching the succession closely. Since its founding in 1946 by Roger W. Straus Jr. and John C. Farrar, FSG has held onto its perch as one of the country’s top literary publishing houses, a home for groundbreaking fiction, award-winning poetry and serious nonfiction. It has published a pantheon of literary icons, Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners, including Pablo Neruda, Flannery O’Connor, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Susan Sontag, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Seamus Heaney and John McPhee.
But like all publishing houses, FSG, which is owned by Macmillan, has struggled to adapt to seismic changes in the industry, with the rise of e-books and online retail, and a shifting cultural landscape where social media has eaten into our collective reading habits and attention spans.
In recent years, the company has experimented with new forms of publishing. In 2011, it created the imprint FSG Originals, which published Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach” science fiction trilogy in quick succession, over eight months, a strategy that helped turn it into a best seller. The imprint has also released digital projects by Warren Ellis, Aleksandar Hemon and Eli Horowitz, whose novel “The Silent History,” which he wrote with Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett, was published both in print and as an interactive, digital app. Two years ago, FSG launched another experimental imprint, MCD/FSG, that functions as a laboratory of sorts for boundary-pushing fiction.
Still, a certain old-fashioned aura has clung to the company, and Mr. Galassi said its mission remains unchanged.
“Roger used to say we publish authors, not books,” he said, referring to Mr. Straus. “I think that’s right.”