Curtis Brown Ltd. lost a beloved family member last week when Emilie Jacobson passed away at age 85. Emmy started working at Curtis Brown in 1946, and though she had planned an upcoming retirement, she was working tirelessly to the very end.
She didn’t love e-mail and would brag that when the Internet or e-mail server went down she could still get work done on her typewriter, but she still gamely kept on top of new technology. And in fact just a couple of weeks ago she sent me an idea for a blog post that I was planning to tackle very soon:
Incidentally, out of curiosity I looked recently at your blog about writing a synopsis. You’re right, it’s a pain and, actually, what counts is how the skeleton is eventually clothed. Nevertheless, there’s a crucial point that you might want to address if you return to the subject. I find that more often than not the author concocts essentially a blurb, not a synopsis. Might be useful to discuss the difference. (The other common mistake is a lettered and numbered construction, the kind of “outline” one is taught in school.)
Emmy’s client Emily St. John Mandel recently posted a beautiful tribute at The Millions that captures Emmy’s spirit and dedication:
Emilie was so much a part of Curtis Brown that it was almost impossible to conceive of her being outside it, no longer coming into this office every day. I asked what she planned to do after retirement. She said she thought it would take her about a year to clean the stacks of manuscripts out of the closets in her apartment, and then she was going to read for pleasure. She thought she might like to do some writing. We talked about books for a while—she’d just read and loved The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. We spoke about her career.
“You were my first champion,” I told her. I told her how much I appreciated everything she’d done for me, the faith she’d always had in my work.
She smiled and began reminiscing about other firsts: a piece of Joyce Maynard’s that she placed in The New York Times when Maynard was eighteen (“An 18-Year-Old Looks Back On Life”), a John Knowles story that eventually became the climactic scene in A Separate Peace. She asked if I was working on a new novel and I told her that I was.
“Oh, this is why I’ve delayed retirement for so long,” she said. “I always want to see what everyone’s going to do next.”
Emmy was an immensely classy lady who saw many evolutions of the publishing industry–when she started, the magazine industry was so robust her job was to place stories and articles in periodicals. But while the industry changed around her, her dedicated work for her clients never wavered.
She was similarly supportive of her colleagues, and I’d always make sure to visit her office for some friendly advice when I worked in New York and then always when I returned for a visit.
It really is hard to imagine Curtis Brown without her. We’ll miss her very, very much.