George Braziller, whose small, independent publishing house introduced Americans to groundbreaking novelists, poets and new voices from abroad, including those of Jean-Paul Sartre and Orhan Pamuk, and the works of 20th-century and classical artists in fine reprints, died on Thursday in Manhattan. He was 101.
His death, at the Mary Manning Walsh Home, was confirmed by his son, Michael Braziller, the publisher and editorial director of the publishing house George Braziller Inc.
In a 2015 memoir, “Encounters: My Life in Publishing,” Mr. Braziller recalled his century of contrasts: a son of Russian immigrants and a high school dropout, whose father died before he was born and whose mother sold old clothes from a pushcart. Yet in 56 years in publishing, he found fame and a glamorous world of friendships with Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso and a host of major poets and novelists.
For serious writers, Mr. Braziller was that rare New York publisher, seemingly more dedicated to literary quality than profits. Starting in 1955, he searched for offbeat, often unknown talents with original ideas for fiction, nonfiction, poetry and short stories. He found them in Europe, Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Many had already been published abroad, but he brought them out in English for American audiences.
The hundreds of authors and titles in his literary pantheon included the existentialist Sartre (“The Words”), the Turkish writer Mr. Pamuk (“The White Castle”) and the French novelist Claude Simon (“The Flanders Road”), each of whom won Nobel Prizes for Literature. (Sartre declined to accept his.)
Other Braziller stars included the Russian-born Nathalie Sarraute (“Portrait of a Man Unknown”); the Nigerian Buchi Emecheta (“Second Class Citizen”), and Australia’s David Malouf (“Remembering Babylon”).
Mr. Braziller’s most enduring publishing relationship was with New Zealand’s Janet Frame. It began with her first novel, “Owls Do Cry,” which he published in 1960, and continued for 30 years with eight more novels and volumes of short stories, poetry and an autobiography.
His roster of dozens of poets included the Serbian-American Charles Simic, who won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize, and the Americans J. D. McClatchy, Madeline DeFrees and Carl Dennis, who won a Pulitzer in 2002.
Mr. Braziller’s art books were often limited editions, with high-quality prints to achieve colors and shades that, critics said, rivaled original plates. The subjects included medieval illuminated manuscripts of the 14th and 15th centuries; “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” the celebrated 19th-century landscape prints of the Japanese artist Hiroshige, and works by Joan Miró and Marc Chagall.
In republishing Henri Matisse’s 1947 book, “Jazz,” in 1983, Mr. Braziller noted in his memoir, “it was very important that we match the quality of the original publication” — 20 color plates and 68 pages of text — “which like the music that inspired it, was created in a spirit of improvisation and spontaneity.”
Mr. Braziller said he used “the finest paper, the highest-quality printing, the best of everything.”
“That was his driving goal and ambition — to bring good writers and artists to the American public,” Joel Braziller, the publisher’s son and secretary-treasurer of the Braziller publishing house, said in an interview for this obituary in 2015. “He was not interested in money. He published great writers and series of books on great artists and architects, and he did it in affordable editions.”
“Bravo for George Braziller, Inc!” The New York Times Book Review said in 1959, when his “Great American Artists Series” appeared with works by Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Winslow Homer and others. “For the first time American Artists have been treated by a publishing house with a respect and faith heretofore reserved for their French counterparts.”
In 1967, Mr. Braziller won the Carey-Thomas Award for distinguished creative publishing, for his full-color facsimile edition of “The Hours of Catherine of Cleves,” a 15th-entury illuminated manuscript that had been acquired by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York in 1963. It was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, received unanimous critical encomiums and — accolade of accolades — was given an entire window at Macy’s.
Mr. Braziller scored another triumph in 1968 with his two-volume, 1,000-page facsimile edition of William Caxton’s 1480 translation of Ovid’s epic poem “Metamorphoses,” a British treasure. He was also hailed for keeping Caxton’s original manuscript intact at Cambridge University after part of it was bought by an American dealer. Mr. Braziller donated proceeds from the sale of 1,200 copies to ransom the work.
In 1980, Mr. Braziller, who issued about 35 titles a year in literature, philosophy, science, urban studies, architecture, environmental studies and other subjects, again won the Carey-Thomas Award, sponsored by Publishers Weekly, which cited his “exceptional publishing program, embracing art books and innovative fiction from the United States and abroad.”
George Braziller was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 12, 1916, the youngest of seven children of Joseph and Rebecca Braziller. He and his siblings spoke Yiddish before learning English. He attended public schools in Brooklyn and in Huntington Station, on Long Island, after his mother remarried. But he dropped out after the 10th grade to work as a shipping clerk.
In 1936, he married Marsha Nash. They had two sons, Michael, the publisher of Persea Books, who succeeded his father as publisher and editorial director after he retired in 2011, and Joel. Mrs. Braziller died in 1970. Besides his sons, Mr. Braziller is survived by three grandchildren.
In the early 1940s, he founded the Book Find Club, buying unsold books, called remainders, cheaply, and selling them to subscribers. Under his wife’s supervision, the club grew rapidly during his World War II Army service in Europe. After the war, it had as many as 100,000 members. He also founded the Seven Arts Book Society. Both were sold in the late 1960s to Time Inc.
Not long after he ventured into publishing, Mr. Braziller was invited to a weekly poker game with Cass Canfield of Harper’s, M. Lincoln Schuster of Simon & Schuster and Bennett Cerf of Random House. But he soon quit their game. To compete with such established publishers professionally, he decided to go abroad in search of innovative writers.
“As a young publisher, I was just beginning to understand what it meant to develop a list and to introduce new ideas to the public,” he recalled. “I realized that there were no established guidelines regarding what to publish. I had to determine the guidelines for myself.”