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First Coast Connect Book Club: Remembering Iconic Editor Maxwell Perkins

Behind every great author stands a great editor.

And few editors were as great as Maxwell Perkins, who worked with the iconic F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe to create classic American novels.

Stacey Goldring, WJCT contributor, spoke about Perkins’ literacy legacy on Tuesday’s First Coast Connect Book Club.

“I believe everyone has been touched by the brilliance of Perkins,” Goldring said. “They just don’t know it.”

Perkins grew up in New Jersey and moved to Boston to attend Harvard University. He graduated with a degree in economics, but quickly realized his passion lied with storytelling.

“So everyone out there — all you aspiring writers who are accountant and engineers — you keep writing and keep putting yourself out there,” Perkins said.

After a brief job as a reporter for the New York Times, Perkins worked as an advertising manager with Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1910 before embarking on a career as a book editor.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Perkins’ first author, reached out to the publishing company many times before meeting Perkins and together the two created historic titles such as “This Side of Paradise” and “The Great Gatsby”.

“He saw talents and strengths in writers who were unaware of their talents and strengths,” Goldring said.

Perkins also helped Fitzgerald deal with emotional troubles, acting as father figure to the author, she said.  

Through Fitzgerald, Perkins began working with Hemingway. And unlike most editors of the time, Perkins adamantly pushed for his work to be uncensored, she said.

“His greatest challenge though,” Goldring said, “was Thomas Wolfe.”

Wolfe was known to write a lot, she said. So much, in fact, Perkins had to cut around 90,000 words from his first manuscript, “Look Homeward, Angel”.

On June 10, the movie “Genius” was released chronicling the life of Perkins and his time working at Charles Scribner’s Sons. It is based on the novel written by A. Scott Berg titled “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius”.

Goldring said a complete list of authors Perkins had worked with can be found on the Jacksonville Public Library’s blog

“Everyone has that inner writer in them, “Goldring said. “So I encourage you, like Perkins, to please keep writing and put yourself out there."