NEW YORK -- Daniel Menaker, an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction and a longtime editor at The New Yorker and Random House who worked with Alice Munro, Salman Rushdie, Colum McCann and many others, has died at age 79.
Menaker's son, podcaster Will Menaker, announced on Twitter that he died Monday of pancreatic cancer, with his wife, the writer and editor Katherine Bouton; and his two children at his bed side.
“He was me, and I am him in so many ways,” Will Menaker tweeted. “I miss him terribly, but am struck with a profound feeling that I am the luckiest man alive for having been his son.”
Daniel Menaker was the author of several books, including the memoir “My Mistake” and the comic psychological novel “The Treatment,” adapted into a 2007 movie starring Chris Eigeman and Ian Holm. He was also known for the O. Henry Award-winning title story of his collection “The Old Left," which draws on his early childhood in Greenwich Village and his “red diaper” upbringing: His father allegedly spied on Trotsky in Mexico, where the exiled Russian revolutionary was eventually assassinated, on behalf of the Communist Party; an uncle was named for Friedrich Engels.
In conversation, Menaker was often genial and self-effacing, but he would acknowledge competitive and boastful sides and was haunted by a family tragedy he helped bring on. In 1967, during a family game of touch football, he encouraged his older and only brother Mike to play defense, even though Mike was troubled by bad knees. Mike Menaker tore a ligament and died after surgery when he developed septicemia.
“Somewhere in my hideous id, I killed him," Menaker wrote in his memoir. “I vanquished him from the field, and spoils are all mine.”
Menaker was an undergraduate at Swarthmore and received a master's degree at Johns Hopkins University. He taught at private school and worked as an editorial assistant at the Prentice Hall publishing house before joining The New Yorker as a fact checker in 1969. He remained for more than 25 years, rising from fact checker to editor, handling work by Munro, Pauline Kael and George Saunders among others. He was also published in the magazine, starting with a story in which he imagines his brother returning from the dead, “Grief.”
In his memoir, he remembered being pushed out of the magazine in the mid-1990s by then-editor Tina Brown and handed off to her husband, Harry Evans, who was running Random House and made Menaker a senior editor. Over the next decade, his authors included Rushdie and such future prize winners as McCann and Elizabeth Strout. He also took on one of publishing's more unusual assignments — the manuscript for the novel about Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential run “Primary Colors,” which he edited without knowing who wrote it. The 1996 bestseller was released anonymously, although the author was eventually revealed to be journalist Joe Klein.
“It reinforced the education I got at Swarthmore, which was very much explicative. You didn’t care who wrote a poem, you just read it,” Menaker told the Paris Review in 2014. “I’m not sure that ‘Primary Colors’ is a great work of art. I do know that it’s an awfully good novel, and it was a pleasure to have all the author complications cut away. So that was a sort of purist, graduate-school approach to something that was a commercial publication, but it was great fun.”
He was forced out from Random House in 2007 — his salary was too high, his profits too low, he would recall — and in recent years worked as a consultant for Barnes & Noble and on the faculty for the creative writing program at SUNY: Stony Brook University.