Latest News > Peter Owen’s Autobiography
Feature below by Publisher Antonia Owen
My father Peter Owen’s memoir, Not A Nice Jewish Boy: Memoirs Of A Maverick Publisher, has just been brought out by Fonthill Media. A labour of love by its co-author, writer and family friend James Nye, it is not a typical publishing-industry memoir of interest only to insiders. Those who have read it describe it as unputdownable, alternately funny and wry and offering a wealth of fascinating insights into a now vanished era of literary London that emerged in the wake of World War II.
Assembled as chronological narrative from hours of recorded interviews before Peter’s death in 2016, aged 89, and augmented by interviews with family, friends and former associates, his voice rings out with his distinctive pithy prose. His grandmothers were ‘a pair of vicious old cows’ who bullied their servants and him and used him as a pawn in family feuds both before and after the family emigrated in the early 1930s from Nuremberg to England to escape the Nazis. The six-year-old German-Jew became a English schoolboy who enjoyed singing Christian hymns – although many decades later he would leave instructions that there was ‘to be no religious crap’ or ‘sanctimonious bilge’ at his London funeral.
Making his way into publishing with a small loan at the age of 24, he found a niche publishing international literary works ignored by more parochial British publishers from the early 1950s to the late 1970s and beyond. Among his authors and others, he had personal relationships with Hermann Hesse’s widow as well as the artist and writer Jean Cocteau, Muriel Spark (his first editor, although for a while in the 1950s ‘the combination of overwork, malnutrition and Dexedrine sent her quite potty’), Anna Kavan (‘an eccentric heroin addict who wrote remarkable fiction’), Yukio Mishima (‘likeable but terribly vain’), the women’s libbers’ heroine Anaïs Nin (‘addicted to fame’), his longtime friends the unconventional ex-pat Americans Paul and Jane Bowles, the acclaimed Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo, Salvador Dalí (witnessed putting his signature on other artists’ pictures), the much-admired Norwegian author Tarjei Vesaas, Ezra Pound (‘who wasn’t completely nuts’) and hundreds of other internationally praised authors. He published 10 Nobel Prize winners – plus Yoko Ono. Peter liked John Lennon but found Yoko arrogant when they met. At one point he confesses that a big mistake had been to turn down a work by Samuel Beckett.
Peter remained as Chairman and Director of his company until his death, and two years earlier he received an OBE for his services to literature.
The book is available to buy in a cased edition from:
and in a Kindle edition via Amazon.
The book is also available in North America from most booksellers, including Amazon and eBay, and World of Books: