The 2013 Pulitzer winners produced the rare feat of two books edited by the same person. David Ebershoff, editor of The Orphan Master's Son and Embers of War, is also an author (his latest book is The 19th Wife). PW caught up with Ebershoff just after he heard the prize announcement.
How long have you been editing? How did you come to be an editor?
I started at Random House as a summer intern in 1995, hired by Alberto Vitale. I started editing about 1998. I became an editor because some great publishers – Ann Godoff, Jason Epstein, Bruce Harris among them – took an early chance on me.
How did you end up editing both books? Do you typically edit in multiple categories?
I edit fiction, history, biography, memoir, and poetry. No matter the category, I’m always looking for original ideas and riveting storytelling. I think because I’m a novelist my writers, whether they write fiction, history, or memoir, trust me when I push them to tell their stories fully and with vigor. I’m a very narrative kind of editor.
Were you working on both books at the same time?
Fred spent more than a decade writing Embers, so the overlap came only in the final years and in the months leading up to publication. Like most editors, I’m typically editing more than a dozen books at once so it’s not unusual to have many manuscripts coming and going from my desk.
Were you surprised by the Pulitzer announcement? Was there a point in the editing process in which you realized you had two really great books?
Of course I was surprised because there were so many great books in 2012 in both fiction and history. I knew both books were excellent and deserved recognition, but I also know worthy books sometimes are looked over. Both books had some key early supporters which told me that perhaps they had special futures. With Orphan Master, David Mitchell and Richard Powers sent me nice words about the book at a critical stage. With Embers, I heard from Neil Sheehan and Frances FitzGerald after I sent them the very large manuscript; that’s when I felt confident the book would find its way.
What are you up to now?
Lots. In fiction, & Sons by David Gilbert, my pick for the literary break-out of the summer (July). In poetry, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins. I think it’s his best collection ever. And Gary Shteyngart’s unforgettable memoir is coming next January. And several others I’m not quite ready to talk about. And I’m writing a new novel.