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Barbara Epstein, 76; A Founder, Co-Editor of N.Y. Review of Books

June 18, 2006|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

Barbara Epstein, a founder and for 43 years co-editor of the New York Review of Books, died of lung cancer Friday at her home in New York City, the magazine announced. She was 76.

"She was working up until the last few weeks," said Robert Silvers, her co-editor since the publication was founded in 1963. Silvers will continue as the magazine's editor.

In a statement on the review's website, publisher Rea Hederman noted that Epstein "had a particular love for the arts" and "worked long and tirelessly on articles intended to expose various injustices and on articles meant to present new talent to readers."

Silvers said that, as co-editors, they each read every article going into the magazine.

"She handled every kind of piece and worked with many famous writers, including Gore Vidal, W.H. Auden, Edmund Wilson and Larry McMurtry," Silvers said in a statement. "She brought to bear on all the work of the Review a superb intelligence, an exquisite sense of language, and a strong moral and political concern to expose and remedy injustice."

Epstein was part of a group of four people who founded the New York Review of Books during the 114-day New York newspaper strike of 1962-'63. The other members of the group were her book-editor husband, Jason Epstein, poet Robert Lowell and essayist Elizabeth Hardwick. Lowell and Hardwick were married at the time. Silvers was brought in to act as co-editor.

With the New York Times Book Review dark because of the strike, there was a void in the active New York publishing market. Silvers recalled that the Review was initially seen by book companies as an advertising vehicle to publicize their winter book lists and by writers as a place for their books to be discussed. But Silvers also noted that the Review was created to fill a need in the country for a journal of ideas, a mission that it has fulfilled since becoming a must-read to many loyal readers.

For the initial issue, Silvers said, he and Epstein sold ads to publishers by day and edited content by night. That first issue, which was put together in three weeks with writers contributing pieces without a fee, included work by Hardwick, Mary McCarthy, Auden, Robert Penn Warren, Norman Mailer and Vidal.

The magazine outlived the strike and was hailed by the New Statesman as being "of more cultural importance than the opening of Lincoln Center" shortly before the newspaper walkout began.

The second of two daughters, Epstein was born Barbara Zimmerman in Boston on Aug. 30, 1929. After graduating from Radcliffe College in 1949, she started at the bottom rung in the publishing business, working as an assistant at Doubleday. She quickly rose up the ranks, and as a junior editor there in 1952, she championed the U.S. publication of Anne Frank's "Diary of a Young Girl," which later became known as "The Diary of Anne Frank." Epstein edited the American edition.

She worked at other literary houses and at the Partisan Review before the New York Review of Books.

Her marriage to Jason Epstein ended in divorce in 1980. She was later the companion of newspaper columnist Murray Kempton, who died in 1997.

She is survived by her children, Jacob of Los Angeles and Helen of New York City, and three grandchildren.

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