In 1920, thinking he would find a job as a writer, Robert Josephy met with a new publisher, Alfred Knopf--and ended up as an office boy for eight dollars a week. After a few intense years he was promoted to production manager and learned to design books, an occupation he traded on for the better part of thirty years. He designed the nascent Viking Press first six books, worked for Simon and Sdiuster and Random House in their early years, became a freelancer in high demand, and served as president of and teacher at the Book and Magazine Guild both before and after it became a full-fledged union. Many of his books are now collectors' items. This is just one of the ways Josephy has been taking part in what has turned out to be an unusually full and intriguing life.
Involvement and imagination have fueled the life and times of this book designer/farmer/political activist/environmentalist. Born in 1903 to a prosperous Long Island family, Josephy is still very much a self-made man. His acquaintances and experiences span a range that includes some of this century's brightest stars and most controversial issues—Alexander Calder, Lewis Mumford, Alfred Stieglitz, H. L. Mencken, Malcolm Cowley. He had to resign from the Bethel Democratic Town Committee for supporting Henry Wallace over Harry Truman. Called the "oldest living liberal Democrat in Connecticut," Josephy was twice persuaded to run as the heavily outnumbered Democratic candidate for the Connecticut state legislature—forty-two years apart. Exercising his design skills in a different field, he planted one of Connecticut's largest fruit farms, the Blue Jay Orchards in Bethel. He has served on the Connecticut Board of Agriculture, was a longtime board member of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, and has been a driving force in the farmland preservation movement.
Fast-paced, multifaceted, opinionated, sometimes outrageous, and always interesting, Josephy and his life reflect the variety and breadth of changing experiences the United States has offered during the twentieth century. His vivid memoir serves to remind us that "ordinary people" lead singular lives: they have true stories worth the telling, stories that are often more than compelling—if not stranger—than fiction.
Singular Lives: The Iowa Series in North American Autobiography
University of Iowa Press
Copyright © 1993 by the University of Iowa Press. All rights reserved.
Josephy, Robert. Taking Part: a Twentieth-Century Life. University of Iowa Press, 1993.