Jason Epstein, Editor and Publishing Innovator, Dead at 93


“Eating” was based on a cooking column Mr. Epstein wrote for The New York Times in the early 2000s. His recipes stem from cooking experiences dating back to his childhood visits to Maine, where he would watch his grandmother cook in the warmth of her winter kitchen.

Jason Epstein was born on August 25, 1928 in Cambridge, Mass., to Robert Epstein, a partner in the family’s textile business, and Gladys (Shapiro) Epstein, a homemaker. He grew up in the Boston suburb of Milton and graduated from high school at 15, an avid reader.

Although much younger than his fellow college peers, he immediately enrolled at Columbia; His teachers included scholars Eric Bentley, Mark Van Doren, Joseph Wood Krutch, and Lionel Trilling. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1949 and a master’s degree in 1950, both in English.

After Doubleday hired him, he courted and in 1954 married Barbara Zimmerman, another ambitious young Doubleday editor from Boston whose father knew Mr. Epstein. She had distinguished herself in the house by editing Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl (1952). They would later be credited as the first high-profile publishers of books whose dinner parties were intellectual feasts worthy of mention in Edmund Wilson’s journals.

The marriage ended in 1980. In 1993 he married Judith Miller, then a reporter for the New York Times, who survives him. In addition to his daughter, Helen Epstein, by his first marriage, Mr. Epstein is survived by another child by that marriage, Jacob, and three grandchildren. Barbara Epstein died in 2006.

Mr. Epstein joined Random House in 1958, hired by Bennett Cerf, the company’s co-founder. He left Doubleday in part out of dismay that it had refused to publish Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel about a middle-aged man’s obsession and affair with a very young girl, for reasons of taste. Mr. Epstein had published Nabokov’s writing in his quarterly The Anchor Review.

Mr. Epstein and Mr. Cerf worked out an agreement whereby Mr. Epstein would contribute and edit books while he was free to start his own businesses provided there was no conflict.


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