University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 6, No. 1/1996
Molding two lifelong passions into one career

     The Rev. Jane Garrett, Delaware '57, who lives near
Northampton, Mass., speaks about her love for history as though
she just discovered it. A senior editor for the Alfred A. Knopf
Publishing Co., she coordinates the production of five to 10
books per year-books that are mostly historical in content and
that routinely meet with critical acclaim.
      "History is interpretation, and everyone looks at it
differently," Garrett says. "Over the years, truth is built by
various scholars who find bits and pieces. These people have a
special angle of vision, or they find new documents. The
cumulative work produces a sense of what really happened. I found
that enormously exciting as a young scholar and still do.
     "Some people are put off by that, because they want
everything to be set in concrete: There are no questions to be
answered. I love all the controversy and interpretation," she
     Even though editors are not as visible as their publishing
houses, they play an integral part in the products that are
placed on the bookshelves. While Garrett has received little
public acknowledgment for her critical role, her legacy is
dramatic. A June 4 article in The New York Times noted that she
has edited six Pulitzer Prize-winning books in history, the
latest being Alan Taylor's William Cooper's Town; a National Book
Award recipient (John Clive's Macaulay); a National Book Critics
Circle Awardee (John Clive's
Not By Fact Alone); four Bancroft Award winners (including David
Reynolds' Walt Whitman's America); and numerous other books that
have won prizes from historical associations.
     In recognition of her professional success, Garrett was
inducted into UD's Alumni Wall of Fame more than 10 years ago.
     Garrett is a combination entrepreneur and product manager.
Mostly, she focuses on acquisition (reading manuscripts, seeking
and being sought by authors and literary agents), partnerships
with authors (before, during and after publication), the
publication process (coordinating and overseeing the production
from the original manuscript to the printed book) and her role as
a resource for authors and others in the publishing industry
during the entire publication process.
     "The job is accumulative," she says. "I am so much busier
now than 10 years ago, because I am still dealing with authors
who may not have a book in active production."
     At an early age, she discovered her fascination for
Americana. This interest helped shape her destiny, and at the
same time, she has welcomed new challenges. During the last
decade, she has integrated her editorial career with her
ordination as an Episcopal priest. The roots of Garrett's success
go back to several key events, beginning with her teenage years
in Cheswold and Smryna, Del. First, she talks with fondness about
a junior high school teacher who "set her mind on fire to read
     "I was a voracious reader, and Life magazine ran various
series on history. One was about who discovered America," she
says. "Our history textbook said the usual thing about Columbus
discovering America, so one day I said to my teacher, 'Wait a
minute. There's some debate about that.'" Instead of telling her
to be quiet, the teacher assigned Garrett a research project. "It
was the real beginning of my love for history," she continues,
"finding out that it was not a dull set of facts."
     Recalling her "fabulously good" undergraduate education at
the University, Garrett says, "I had the good fortune and added
benefit when I was a junior to receive a Social Science Research
Council undergraduate research stipend. This award, suggested by
John A. Munroe [now H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus of
History], provided small amounts to undergraduates to do
research. I spent that summer in Baltimore and Philadelphia
researching my honors thesis. The experience launched me into
directions that I'm still involved in. I ended up with a B.A.
from Delaware but had the equivalent of an M.A."
     A. Janney De Armond, professor emeritus of English, also has
been enormously influential since Garrett's days at the
University. She continues to visit Garrett in the summers when
traveling throughout New England.
     "She's been a role model for me. Partly, it's her sense of
scholarship, but it's also her wonderful manner with students and
everyone she meets," Garrett says. "Jan has a remarkable spirit
and consistent approach to life. Recently, she's been teaching
courses on the Bible as literature, and we often talk about our
mutual interests."
     Garrett's decision to work for Knopf in 1966 has had far-
reaching influence on her 30-year career in the publishing
industry. She was fortunate to have a friend in Boston who told
Alfred Knopf about her work as assistant to the director of the
Boston Athenaeum Library and as editor at the New York Historical
Society. "I did not have to seek the job, but certainly admired
Knopf books as absolutely top of the line," she says.
     At first, as Knopf's assistant, she "rode herd" on his
projects, but she gradually accumulated her own writers, who
describe her in The New York Times article as "unusually
patient," "a good listener who can steer writers out of academic
thickets" and "non-authoritarian but firm."
     In 1973, her personal philosophy was profoundly changed. She
took a one-year sabbatical from Knopf and went to work as a
volunteer publications developer for the Adult Literacy
Organization of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The African situation
opened her mind to the realities of world politics and social
issues. She explains, "That experience radicalized me. I realized
that many of the horrific problems in Africa were also problems
that existed in the United States-racism, poverty, hunger."
     After returning to the U.S., she became more deeply involved
in the church through its hunger program and community action
work. "It was not that I wanted to stop one career and start
another. That was not it. I tried to avoid the call to seek
ordination, but it kept coming back. Whether volunteer or
ordained, I was being called into the world to deal with the
world," she recalls.
     Her ministry has evolved almost exclusively into national
committee work. She is particularly pleased to be on her church's
Committee for Dialog on Human Sexuality, which she co-chairs
until 1997. With a reputation as a peacemaker, she gets along
with both conservatives and liberals. A strong sense of fairness
is one of her guiding principles. "We have to find ways to let
both sides of the issues be brought forth and talked about in
calm and rational ways," she emphasizes.
     Garrett's work as an editor has been instrumental in her
service to the church. Both jobs require interpersonal
communication skills and a sensitivity to the human spirit. When
she was first involved in the church, Knopf was not publishing
books that related to religious and social issues.  With
enthusiasm, she says, "I am now able to work with authors like
Karen Armstrong, author of History of God and History of
Jerusalem, and Andrew Sullivan, author of Virtually Normal.
Working with Andrew has been a privilege and has served as a
connection to my committee work on sexuality issues within the
church. For a while, they were separate interests; now, they
     In a world obsessed with specialists, Garrett's liberal arts
education has been an advantage. She says, "There are fewer and
fewer jobs for people who are not trained with some particular
expertise. I identify with that because I am a generalist and
found a niche where being a generalist is a good thing. Most
editors have a degree of specialty, but they are still
     As humanist and visionary, Garrett combines her two life
passions by bridging the secular and spiritual worlds.  She
compares her work to being a midwife and birthing babies, using
similar techniques to give birth to ideas. As she continues to
connect both worlds, it would not be a surprise to learn that her
best work is yet to be born.
                             -Sally Donatello, Delaware '66, '92M