My former colleague and the co-founder of Booklight Inc. (our web company) and Lantern Books (our publishing imprint) died on January 7th this year of a heart attack. It was a profoundly shocking event, not only because Gene was only seventy years old, but because, as he liked to announce when he was asked how he was, he seemed “alive and well.” It felt impossible to imagine that Gene’s vitality, energy, and exuberance could ever be stopped by anything as quotidian as death. His heart was too good to be betrayed in such a manner.
Gene was the first person to give me my long-hoped-for job in a publishing company, when in 1994 I was brought on as promotion manager for Continuum, a small social science and religion publisher. Over the course of the next five years, the company and Gene supported me in my efforts to expand my abilities: figuring out elementary coding, discovering typesetting, acquiring books, and learning the trade.
In 1998, Continuum merged with Cassell, a UK-based academic publisher about four times its size, and my job morphed from promotion to processing data. I was now being asked to handle titles such as Library Science in Scandinavia and Language Relations Across Bering Strait, and I signaled to Gene that I wanted to leave. I was going to learn more coding and write, I told him. Gene responded that he’d like to start a business with me providing web design for publishers, and that he had a backer. I expressed an interest, and we barreled forward, departing from Continuum in May 1999 and opening up Booklight Inc./DBA Lantern Books in August. By that stage, our backer had pulled out, and it was just Gene and me.
When I announced to my colleagues at Continuum that I would be setting up business with Gene, I was met with incredulity. Gene had never edited, typeset, or proofed a book; he was constantly on the road; and he was known for—how shall I say this?—not being entirely clear as to where he was or what he was doing that day. But I wasn’t too worried. Gene was a decent, patient, and supportive individual, with a preternatural patience in listening to the obsessions of octogenerian multi-millionaires. He was also a brilliant publisher: able to see book potential in would-be authors, speakers, and subjects and squeeze out a manuscript or two from them.
We complemented one another. Gene, in the Myers-Briggs formulation, was a “P” (all about the process); I am a “J” (all about the result). Whenever Gene would float a project, my immediate reaction was who, what, how, and when. Gene relied on me to get stuff done; I depended on him to provide perspective and haul me back from the precipice. I did the words; he did the numbers. When we hired interns and employees, Gene was the fun boss; I wasn’t. Together, I like to think, we created a fair, transparent, and safe working environment for our colleagues.
In 2002, Gene was offered the opportunity to head Anthroposophic Press, which he renamed Steiner Books, and so spent more and more time away from the office. Booklight/Lantern also changed. When we began in 1999, Gene I think imagined us as a web company with a small publishing concern on the side. I imagined the opposite. By the mid-2000s, it was clear that the emergence of a raft of programs and companies offering cheaper and quicker web development meant our web company’s days were numbered. Our publishing company had by then developed a relatively robust backlist. Booklight’s staff numbers shrank, we moved our office from Union Square in Manhattan to Brooklyn, and by 2012 we were effectively only Lantern Books.
Gene was by then immersed in Steiner Books, and in 2019 I resolved we needed to go our separate ways, since I needed a publishing partner who was wholly present. Gene agreed, having started his new non-profit, the Steiner Wegman Medical Foundation, and Lantern Books morphed into Lantern Publishing & Media. It’s particularly cruel that Gene should have died at the very start of this new stage of his life and career. Although he’d ended his time with Lantern, he hadn’t finished his work. He was enthusiastic about his future and mine and Lantern’s.
The above is the most basic report of our 25 years together as business colleagues and friends. It doesn’t reflect just how grateful I am to him for his tolerance, care, and integrity. It doesn’t capture how much I learned from him about publishing, or how much I tried to emulate his placing of people before project, mission before profit, and kindness before advantage. It doesn’t display how many of his mannerisms, quirky sayings, attitudes, or even vocal patterns have become my own, or how he’s present in so many of my decisions, inclinations, or responses. It doesn’t convey how much I will miss him—partly because I may never really be able to fathom just how deeply he became (and remains) a part of me.
He could be exasperating, rash, and for too long he simply wasn’t around. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been if I’d chosen a different business partner. But these are the usual responses to a long relationship, and they shouldn’t cloud the bigger truth. Together, we kept a company going for two decades. We paid our bills and royalties, remained solvent and owed no one any money, and we were honest. We published some damn good books that have helped and informed many people. We held fast to our values and our mission. And, as Gene would say, we made a living, if not a killing. And that is more than good enough for me.
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