Jeannette Seaver’s Award Ceremony
New York, April 5, 2012
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!
It’s a great pleasure to welcome you tonight to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and I want to thank our Cultural Counsellor Antonin Baudry and his team for being such gracious hosts.
We are gathered here this evening to express our gratitude and admiration for two exceptional individuals, Jeannette Seaver and Lawrence Kritzman.
On behalf of France, I will bestow the insignia of “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur” upon them.
As you know, the Legion of Honor was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte to reward extraordinary achievements. It is France’s highest award and one of the most coveted distinctions in the world. If you please let’s begin with you, Jeannette.
Dear Jeannette Seaver,
I understand that the last time you were here at the Payne Whitney Mansion, the evening was dedicated to the memory of your husband, the great publisher Richard Seaver, on the occasion of the posthumous publication of his extraordinary memoirs, The Tender Hour of Twilight.
Our thoughts are also with Dick tonight, and on a personal note my wife Sophie and I will never forget the very warm welcome that you both gave us when I was the Consul general in New York a few years ago.
France was part of your shared commitment from the beginning, as you and Dick were married in Paris in 1953.
And for many years, both of you were the bold promoters of French literature in the United States.
Your publishing adventure began in 1971, when you joined Richard at Viking Press to start your own imprint, Seaver Books.
Seaver Books immediately distinguished itself by publishing a large catalogue of French writers and intellectuals, including for example Marguerite Duras, Emil Cioran, André Breton, Jean-Paul Sartre, François Mitterrand, Samuel Beckett, André Makine, and Eugene Ionesco – to name but a few.
It was a risky gamble, because translation – as well as intelligence – is always a challenge. But you brilliantly succeeded, and the adventure continued… So at the end of the 1980’s you created an independent publishing house together with Richard, Arcade Publishing, and introduced many contemporary French authors to America, such as Gilles Deleuze, Françoise Sagan, Simone de Beauvoir or Amin Maalouf.
After Richard’s death in 2009, Arcade closed. Arcade Publishing’s backlist was subsequently acquired by a new house, Skyhorse. And you have returned to Arcade via Skyhorse as editor, where you are again assuming your key role of acquiring new titles.
But your passionate promotion of French culture does not end there — it even covers gastronomy!
You are the author of four successful cookbooks, each with a different angle on French cuisine.
Your first hit, Jeannette’s Secrets of Everyday Cooking, led to the writing of three others, and I’ve heard that a fifth book is in the works… Surprising and innovative, dear Jeannette, you always go where people don’t expect you!
Indeed, stepping a little back in time, one finds that it was not literature that you chose initially, but music: you first distinguished yourself in a prestigious career as a violinist.
After taking First Prize in violin from the “Conservatoire National de Paris” in 1953, you were awarded a grant in 1954 to attend Yvan Galamian’s Master Class at the Juilliard School of Music, to complete your soloist training.
Still, despite a promising career as a concert violinist, you always felt that your talent as a musician somehow interfered with your first love: literature. And if you finally left the musical notes for the world of books, somehow you have always seen your new task through the lens of a musician, that is to say, from an artist’s point of view. Throughout your life, your many travels between France and the United States allowed you to discover new French voices to publish on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
You also served in many literary juries, including the French Voices Committee, created by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.
“French Voices,” says it all: in literature it is always a matter of letting a voice be heard. It’s also a question of music.
That’s what makes you a unique publisher, dear Jeannette, one who discovers writers’ voices, and lets them express “leur petite musique intérieure” (their own inner music). With the ease, grace and sensibility of a true artist.
So tonight, on behalf of the President of France, it is a great privilege for me to bestow the Legion of Honor upon you.
Jeannette Seaver, au nom du Président de la République et en vertu des pouvoirs qui nous sont conférés, nous vous faisons Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.