The beloved and illuminating The Diary of A Young Girl may have remained in Doubleday’s rejected submissions were it not for one Judith Jones.
Jones, born Judith Bailey, was working as an office assistant for the publishing company in Paris when she was tasked with filing the reject pile one day in 1950 when she was 27, as the Washington Post recounted.
She was struck by the image of Frank’s face on the cover of the advance copy of the French edition and read it all day. When her boss returned, she told him, “We have to publish this book.” He said, “What? That book by that kid?”
It had already been published in Dutch and soon after French as well, the Post said, but was rejected by other English-language publishers before she successfully argued that the New York office of Doubleday should take it on. Her charge ultimately led the book to be the transcendent read it is today.
She died Aug. 2 in her Vermont summer home at 93 years old due complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Jones was eventually hired by Blanche Knopf, co-founder of Knopf, in 1957, beginning primarily as a translator of such French writers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. She remained with Knopf until 2010 when she retired from her role as senior editor and vice president.
In addition to rescuing Frank’s tale from the reject pile, she made another legendary discovery in her role as a junior editor with Knopf: Julia Child.
When a “huge” manuscript turned up on her desk in 1959, the Post said, Jones had found the “book [she’d] been searching for,” as she later wrote in her memoir, The Tenth Muse. Child had been trying to shorten the work she created with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle for six years to no avail.
With Jones as editor, Child’s book was not only published but given its instantly recognizable title, as it was Jones who dubbed it Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
“When I triumphantly showed our title to Mr. Knopf, he scowled and said, ‘Well, I’ll eat my hat if that title sells,’” Jones wrote in her memoir per the Post. “I like to think of all the hats he had to eat.”
Jones was even featured as a character in the 2009 film Julie & Julia (played by Erin Dilly) for her role in getting Mastering published.
Jones, who was known to indulge in her own kitchen creations and who had fallen in love with French food when she lived in Paris after college, later worked with many other household names in the kitchen such as Marcella Hazan, Claudia Roden and Madhur Jaffrey.
She worked with Jewish cooking authority Joan Nathan on four of her books and traveled with Nathan to Israel as the author wrote The Foods of Israel Today.
Nathan’s favorite lesson from Jones, per the Post: “Find your voice. Find who you are and don’t be afraid to show it.”
Jones married her husband, Evan, in 1951, to whom she had been an assistant as he edited a magazine aimed at American tourists. They moved to New York and wrote three books together, all about food and cooking. He died in 1996.
In 2006, the Post added, Jones was awarded the James Beard Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
She is survived by four stepchildren, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.