Judith Jones, the legendary and award-winning cooking and literary editor, has died at age 93. Jones was responsible for pushing Julia Child into the spotlight and for making sure the world could read the diary of Anne Frank.
Jones was a titan in the industry, and influential in helping the careers of dozens of cook book authors. In 2006, she was honored with the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.
Here’s what you need to know about Jones and her death.
1. The Cause of Death Was Alzheimer’s Disease
Step-daughter Bronwyn Dunne told the Washington Post that Jones died at her summer home in Walden, Vermont on August 2. The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, Dunne said.
She is survived by four stepchildren, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She was married to Evan Jones, who died in 1996. They did not have any children together and worked on three books.
Jones was born on March 10, 1924 in New York City, notes the Post. Her childhood was not filled with delicious food, as she grew up during the Great Depression. In 1945, she graduated from Bennington College in Vermont and returned to New York City briefly. She took a trip to Paris, which turned ended up not being just a vacation. She got a job at Doubleday there, and that’s where she first encountered The Diary of Anne Frank.
In 1951, she married editor Evan Jones. They wrote three books together – The Book of Bread, Knead It, Punch It, Bake It! and The Book of New England Cookery.
2. She Rescued ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ From a Publisher’s Reject Pile
Aside from her work in bringing Julia Child’s recipes to American households, Jones was also famously responsible for getting The Diary of Anne Frank published. She saw it in a pile of rejected proposals in 1952. As she explained to the Jewish Chronicle, Jones saw an advance copy of the French edition and started reading it. “I came to this lovely face,” she said of the famous image of the young Holocaust victim.
“I read it all day,” she told the Jewish Chronicle. “When my boss returned, I told him, ‘We have to publish this book.’ He said, ‘What? That book by that kid?’”
“I knew the people at Doubleday in New York, and I made the book quite important because I was so taken with it, and I felt it would have a real market in America. It’s one of those seminal books that will never be forgotten,” Jones told the Chronicle.
The book became a publishing sensation. It was later turned into a play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, which they adapted into the 1959 Oscar-winning film. The play won a Pulitzer Prize.
The success of Anne Frank got Jones a promotion at Knopf. “When I came back [to the United Sates] from France, Mrs. Knopf had just fired an editor, and was looking to hire a new one. She said ‘You’re responsible for Anne Frank. Well, my editor had passed on that book,'” Jones recalled in her Jewish Chronicle interview.
3. She Championed Julia Child’s Work & Helped Establish Her Career
Jones famously edited Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the book that launched Julia Child’s career. Jones was a champion of Child’s work. She was even played by Erin Dilly in the 2009 film Julie & Julia that starred Meryl Streep as Child.
Amazingly, Jones’ relationship with Child started the same way her work on Anne Frank did. As Epicurious notes that she first saw Mastering six years after Houghton Mifflin opted not to publish it. It was 1959 and she was an assistant editor at Knopf.
When Jones open the manuscript for Mastering, which was co-written by Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, she decided, “This was the book I had been searching for.” It was first published in 1961 in two volumes and changed American cuisine for years. The book was republished for its 50th anniversary.
As Jones explained to Eater in 2015:
To be absolutely truthful, I got so excited by Julia’s book and what it did for making people better cooks, and the tools that you needed to make it really work in an American city or small town, and I thought, If we could do this for French food, for heavens’ sake, let’s start doing it for other exotic cuisines! I used the word “exotic,” and that meant the Middle East with Claudia Roden, it meant better Indian cooking with Madhur Jaffrey. But how did I know that a person was the right person to do it? If I saw in somebody something I really liked, and was original, then we’d get together and say, “How can we market this and get a larger audience?” and so on, and I’d tell Jim Beard about it, and he’d have some good ideas. That’s the way I did it, but it’s changed a lot.
Child and Jones also collaborated on Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home with Jacques Pelpin in 2000.
4. She Started Working at Alfred A. Knopf, Rising to Senior Editor & Vice President Before Her 2011 Retirement
Jones retired from Alfred A. Knopf in 2011 after over half a century there. According to Publisher’s Weekly, she joined the publisher in 1957 as an assistant to Blanche Knopf and rose to the roles of senior editor and vice president when she retired.
“If you want to write, write. It has to be a passion. When you edit, you’re willing to stay up all night and then be slapped in the face,” Jones told Eater in 2015.
Jones is also credited with launching the careers of authors Madhur Jaffrey, Claudia Roden, Marcella Hazan, Joan Nathan, Edna Lewis, Lidia Bastianich, Anna Thomas, Hiroko Shimbo, Michael Field and Nina Simond, notes the Post. She also edited work by John Updike, John Hersey, William Maxwell and Elizabeth Bowen.
5. She Wrote Her Last Book, a Cookbook for Dogs Called ‘Love Me, Feed Me,’ in 2014
Jones was best known for editing others’ works, but she was also a writer herself. Her last book was 2014’s Love Me, Feed Me: Sharing with Your Dog the Everyday Good Food You Cook and Enjoy, a cookbook that features recipes for dog food so you don’t have to rely on bland store-bought food for your favorite pet.
“Filled with the practical wisdom and verve of a master home cook and lifetime dog lover, Love Me, Feed Me can only lead to a happier, healthier dog,” the publisher’s synopsis reads.
Jones also wrote a memoir, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, in 2006.
“You know she can do anything, and she doesn’t think our [cookbooks] are less than those of great writers,” Indian cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey told Eater in 2015. “She was living proof of somebody who can edit a masterpiece of fiction and can edit a cookbook, and she’s not discriminating and saying one is a higher form of art and one is lesser.”
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