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The People’s Publisher Who Changed My Life Forever


The People’s Publisher Who Changed My Life Forever

Frances Moore Lappé

It’s 1970. In my VW bug, I pull up in front of the Durant Hotel on the edge of the UC Berkeley campus and sit. I’m waiting for Betty Ballantine, and all I know is that she’s a big-time New York publisher. So, of course, I imagine her appearing in sleek suit, high heels, and full-on makeup. But soon, approaching my car with a smile is a slightly graying gal in sneakers and flowered cotton pants. Her warmth immediately puts me at ease.

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" Note that Betty and her husband Ian Ballantine are considered among the founders of paperback publishing in America, making books vastly more accessible. After their marriage in 1939, the two were sent to New York by Penguin in the UK to create its US arm. Six years later they helped create Bantam Books."

I am rereading Lewis Thomas’ Lives of a Cell (Viking, 1974). My copy was printed/published by Bantam in 1984 and was affordable to me, even as a graduate student. (After thirty-five years, it does have that special patina to it.) Knowledge is power and I must say that Ms. Ballantine and her husband thus helped empower me. Sounds like progressivism to me. I toast my morning coffee to her memory.

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What a great Name Betty Ballentine. My favorite part of the story was when Betty Ballentine said, "Frankie, it was the ideas! "
I think lots of publishers have forgotten about how important these IDEAS are.

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… Thank you for a very heart-felt story. What an inspiring way for another would-be-writer to start the day.

… I am an artist myself (drawing, painting, sculpting), and have always self-identified as such my entire life. Apparently there has also been a hidden writer buried in that consciousness as well. It took a teacher just like yours to help point that out.

… While attending a local community college, decades ago -studying Advertising Art- there were a few required courses I had to take in order to meet the degree requirements. One was an English Literature class. As we lined up to go retrieve our papers from the Instructor, she very much surprised me as she lit up enthusiastically at the mention of my name. She searched through her stack until she found my essay and handed it back to me. The praise for my paper was quite surprising, as I looked down at my work and could see nothing but ‘red markings’ all over the pages. I also believe -if I recall correctly- that there was even a big, fat D minus at the top of the front page as well!

… The most shocking part of this whole exchange was her overall demeanor towards ‘this’ particular student -yours truly. She was gushing over my efforts, and myself, in a manner that only Art Teachers had ever done so in the past. No Core Curriculum teacher had ever got this excited over anything I had ever produced -only Art Teachers had ever reacted this way to any of my previous efforts.

… I smiled, quite appreciatively, and told her how grateful I was for the praise but then directed her attention back to my actual paper, as I reminded her of all these red notations, which were quite ubiquitous -from one end of the pages to the other.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” she replied nonchalantly, as she quickly glanced down, and then back up, at what I was trying to point out.

“That’s nothing that any editor can’t correct. The difference here,” as she exuberantly continued on;

“Is that you know how to tell a story!”

… Whenever I find myself mired in that old existential dilemma commonly referred to as Writer Block, I always recall that very enthusiastic Teacher -much like your own (and I am certain much like Betty Ballentine herself)- and I smile within, as I remind myself anew;

“You can do this Lawrence. After all, you do know how to tell a story, right?”

… Indeed I do. Thanks again!