Nov 2, 2011
A complicated, fascinating, largely unknown man who did a great deal for American literary publishing, Mitchell Kennerley was born in 1878 in Burslem, England. He arrived in the United States in 1896 to help set up publisher John Lane's U.S. offices. After an unhappy parting, Kennerley set off to publish various small literary magazines, and in 1906 launched his own imprint under which he published literary criticism, modern drama, fiction, and poetry, including Modern Love, first book off the press. He produced elegant books in small print runs and launched the careers of many important young authors of poetry particularly. American Bookman said that his imprint was "in itself guarantee of a book's worth.” Christopher Morley called Kennerley “unquestionably the first Modern publisher in this country.”
Kennerley's publishing career wound down during the First World War, and he subsequently took over operation of the Anderson Galleries where he orchestrated some of the 20th century's most amazing rare book auctions. The Huntington and Folger Libraries were largely built on these sales.
He opened the Lexington Avenue Book Shop in 1940 and operated it until his suicide in 1950. Women, an inability to focus, a failure to pay his bills and desire for a lifestyle beyond his means, have all be pointed to as explanation for his sad ending.
I met with Dan Boice, author of the 1996 bibliography of the Kennerley imprint, in Iowa to talk about Kennerley and the books he produced.