Horace Liveright (December 10, 1883 – September 24, 1933) was the founder of the Modern Library and Boni & Liveright Publishers. He was also the Scholastic Awards’ very first juror! Today, on the anniversary of his death, we celebrate his life and his contribution to the awards that are still around almost 90 years later.
Though at first pursuing a career as a bond salesman, Horace Liveright would later enter the publishing world with the help of his father-in-law, the owner of the International Paper. Liveright founded the Modern Library and Boni & Liveright Publishers in 1917 where he published the first books by authors such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulker and Dorothy Parker. He was also a staunch crusader against literary censorship.
Liveright agreed to be the first(!) juror for the Awards. However, although there were about 300 entries, Maurice R. Robinson, the founder of Scholastic Inc., felt the overall quality of submissions was poor and become quite disappointed. Robinson chose to send Liveright the best seven stories anyway and asked him to choose three winners. In a letter dated April 30, 1923, Liveright – who was well known for his harsh tongue and quick temperament – wrote:
I am sending you by first class mail to-day the seven stories which you sent me to read as a judge.
I can only say that I have never in my life read such a collection of inexcusably poor stuff. I can’t with any conscience vote for any of these stories as being worthy of publication even in magazine edited by 5-year-old girls and boys subscribed to be morons. Not one of the stories has anything to recommend it. So I refuse to use my vote for the purpose of giving any one of these stories preference over the other or over any others that were submitted for the contest.
Can’t you lend dignity to your magazine by fearlessly announcing that the judges felt all of the stories were so bad that no rewards could be made?
As Scholastic grew as a company and gained a greater reputation among teachers, the quality of the works submitted vastly improved. Never again did a juror react so aghast to the works they were judging. With alumni like Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, Myla Goldberg and Ned Vizzini, it’s clear the Awards have attracted and identified some wonderful literary talent!