July 17, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 19

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    Press editor Abrams attracted some of best science authors

    Susan Abrams, an editor who nurtured dozens of authors as she built the University Press’ prestigious science list from scratch, died Sunday, June 29. She was 57.

    To many who worked with her, she represented a model of commitment to the art of producing important books that were a pleasure to read.

    Abrams, who was hired in 1979 as the editor for history, philosophy and social studies of science, was described as an editor of uncommon vision and devotion, who attracted good writers and helped them produce outstanding work.

    “Susan was a really meticulous and demanding editor. And everybody accepted this because she was completely devoted to her authors and pulled out every stop, every day, to make things turn out right,” said Erin Hogan, Publicity Director for the University Press.

    As some measure of her success, the press won, under Abrams tenure, seven History of Science Society’s Pfizer Awards, the field’s highest honor. Abrams edited six of the books awarded the prize.

    Born July 27, 1945, in St. Louis, Mo., Abrams attended Washington University, where her commitment and ability to bond with authors was already in evidence. As a student, she once phoned Norman Mailer in the middle of the night, having written more than 300 pages for a short paper on his symbolism. He responded supportively, and they stayed in touch.

    Dividing her time between her studies and community activism, Abrams took 11 years to graduate. She worked for the CV Mosby publishing house in St. Louis before joining the University Press staff.

    Competing with such established university presses as Oxford, Cambridge, Columbia and Princeton, she built Chicago’s press science list by placing ads in science journals and talking to graduate students to find out who had interesting new projects. Her commitment to finding and nurturing good work paid off, as more and more important books began to appear under her guidance.

    Barbara Hanrahan, who was working at the press as a senior editorial assistant when Abrams arrived, and who maintained a friendship with her, said Abrams was “a truly spectacular editor of the kind you just don’t see anymore––in terms of her intelligence, in terms of her ability, and in terms of the way in which she worked with each and every author and each and every book to make it the best possible book.

    “She worked with people at a level of detail and a level of devotion that is truly extraordinary. The best evidence of that is how her books have sold over the years and how devoted her authors have been to her––staying in touch, remaining friends, providing advice and coming back to her with subsequent books. She was truly one of a kind.”