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A. Whitney Ellsworth, founding publisher of the New York Review of Books, has died

June 22, 2011 |  7:29 am


A. Whitney Ellsworth, who was one of the group of New York literati that founded the New York Review of Books, died Saturday. He was 75 and had suffered from pancreatic cancer.

The New York Times reports:

As publisher of The New York Review of Books, Mr. Ellsworth expanded the journal’s presence abroad by publishing a British edition, distributed by a London cabdriver with whom he struck up an acquaintance. In 1979, taking advantage of a strike that halted publication of The Times Literary Supplement, he helped create The London Review of Books, published for its first six months as an insert in The New York Review of Books.

In the early 1970s, prompted by an assistant who had worked for the British Information Service in Athens, he became interested in the plight of political dissidents imprisoned by the junta in Greece. His efforts to raise money on their behalf led to his involvement with Amnesty International USA, where he served a term as chairman from 1976 to 1978 and was treasurer for several years.

When he joined its board in 1972, the organization had an annual budget of $45,000. Meetings, Mr. Ellsworth found to his dismay, were often taken up with discussions on whether to buy a secondhand typewriter.

He set up a direct-mail fund-raising operation that yielded impressive results. In 1981, the year Mr. Ellsworth stepped down as treasurer, the organization’s East Coast division, in New York, had annual revenues of $4.5 million and was contributing $1 million a year to the international budget in London.

Ellsworth left the New York Review of Books in 1986 and went on to run a small newspaper chain in New York and Connecticut, where he lived.

The New York Review of Books was launched during a New York publishing strike in 1963. It swiftly became a signifcant source of intellectual discourse, which it remains, with a worldwide circulation of 135,000. Robert Silvers, a founding co-editor, remains at its helm after more than 45 years.

-- Carolyn Kellogg