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8 questions for Greg Lawrence, author of "Jackie as Editor"

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis spent longer working as an editor than she did married to either President Kennedy or millionaire Aristotle Onassis.

By Yvonne Zipp / February 8, 2011

What do Michael Jackson, Bill Moyers, Louis Auchincloss, Carly Simon, and Nobel Prizewinner Naguib Mahfouz have in common?

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Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was their editor.

In fact, as Greg Lawrence points out in his new book, Jackie as Editor, Onassis spent longer as an editor than she did married to either President Kennedy or millionaire Aristotle Onassis. However, in most of the many biographies written about the iconic former first lady, her professional life is frequently reduced to a paragraph or two.

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To give a fuller picture of her as a working woman, Lawrence interviewed more than 125 writers and editors who worked with Onassis during her 19 years at first Viking Press – which she left after a contretemps over a Jeffrey Archer novel featuring an assassination of a fictional Ted Kennedy – and Doubleday, where she remained until her death in 1994. (In some cases, the people interviewed in the book spoke on the record about her for the first time.)

While another book examining Onassis's editing career also came out this month, Lawrence provides an insider's view: In addition to being her biographer, he also belongs on the list of Jackie's writers.

He spoke with the Monitor by phone earlier this month.

1. What was the genesis for your project? What made you want to examine Onassis through the books she edited? And how much can you learn about a person from those choices?

I began the project when I ran across letters and manuscripts which [his coauthor, ballerina] Gelsey Kirkland and I had received back from Jackie, since she was our editor for three books over 10 years.

And in rereading these letters, I realized, “Oh my God, she was so brilliant.” She was so able to put together praise and criticism, and her praise could be quite effusive. There was such an eloquence in her writing. I realized that this was a very special editor, and someone who could be exemplary for people still working in publishing today.

After interviewing many of her authors … I realized the experience I had with Jackie was in no way unique. She really knew how to cultivate authors and nurture them, support them.

There was a kind of conspiracy, if you will: You felt like she was taking you under wing and that she was on your side against the corporate hierarchy.


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