An interview with Jeanette Seaver of Arcade Publishing
In the days before the Coronavirus crisis, the news broke that Grand Central Publishing pulled Allen’s memoir, Apropos of Nothing, after junior employees, following Ronan Farrow’s lead, had protested the book by walking out of work. That was it, we figured. They had canceled Woody Allen.
So like everyone else, I was surprised to wake up Monday morning to find out that someone had published Woody Allen’s book after all. How did this happen so quickly? Who took the risk? And why the hell would they do it in the midst of the biggest global public-health emergency in modern history?
The answer, as it turns out, is Jeanette Seaver of Arcade Publishing, a division of Simon & Schuster.
For many years, Jeanette Seaver, who is French, co-ran Arcade with her American husband. Richard Seaver worked for several American publishing houses, and was instrumental in fighting against the censorship of authors such as Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, the Marquis de Sade, and many more. He died of a heart attack in 2009, his victories against the censorial forces in America won. Or so he thought. It’s only natural that his widow has picked up the baton.
We spoke to her from her home in New York, where she’s self-isolated along with everyone else.
Why did you decide to publish Woody Allen’s book?
The minute I read that Grand Central dropped the book, my flag went up. I admire Woody Allen. He’s a great artist. And I was appalled to imagine that a solid, good reputation house such as Grand Central would be dropping such an important author. I realized that Grand Central dropped the book because there were protests in front of their office. They were being intimidated…it was surprising to say the least. It was unacceptable. You have to stand for freedom of speech.
How did you get in touch with him?
That’s my own recipe, which I won’t reveal because it’s private. But I moved heaven and earth until I talked to him. I will say I started pursuing with vigor. And I didn’t stop until I got the book. I started on Thursday afternoon and by Sunday afternoon I was at Woody’s apartment and he was signing the contract.
Was there any competition?
I have no idea. I went completely solo on my horse in the field to get the book. There might have been other people, but I was clearly the only one who he said yes to. There might have been others, but I jumped immediately, but my enthusiasm was a message to Woody I suppose. I would have loved to publish the book to begin with.
Did you meet with Woody Allen in person? What was that like?
I met when he signed the book that Sunday. But I also come with a certain pedigree. My husband and I have been on the cultural barricades for decades fighting for the abolition of censorship. I’m alone now because I’m a widow. But I’m still raising the flag of no censorship and freedom of speech. That interested Woody, and I’m French, and he knows that the French just love him. He’s a big hero in France.
What was it like hurriedly publishing in the midst of a global health emergency? Did you have to order a new print run? Did you struggle to find distribution channels? Did you run into any unexpected road blocks? Was the original publisher willing to turn over the manuscript?
We are currently being distributed by Simon & Schuster. The decision to go ahead with publication was very tricky. In this time it seems to not be a very good idea. But all of us wanted to have the book out and hope for the best. My colleagues in Europe are postponing until later down the road. The problem here now is that bookstores are closed. We’re selling it through Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Ingram. Ebooks and hard copies are available. But ebooks will be easier probably.
What has the response to the book been like so far?
I haven’t checked in the past half hour, but it’s doing OK. It’s a wonderful book. All you need to do is read the book, and you’ll understand everything. He’s very humble, he’s self-deprecating. It’s very entertaining, it’s very fun to read. And then you get a sense of the famous case that he’s in. Read the book, it’s all there.
What do you think the case of this book portends for the future of American publishing? Is it going to usher in a new era of censorship?
There will always be a publisher that gets scared, that decides to drop a book. But there will always be people like myself who get up and wave the flag and have the courage to publish a book that other people have complicated. Great artists deserve to be heard.