"Grovel Well" and More Wisdom from Chuck Adams

The amazing Chuck Adams accepted the Editor’s Award at Poet & Writers’ In Celebration of Writers dinner earlier this week in New York City.  He says he’s not a writer, but we feel certain you will find his acceptance speech as spot-on and lovely as we do. Here’s the text of from Monday night’s dinner:

Thanks to Poets & Writers for this wonderful award. I am amazed to be standing here, and I’m humbled, but I’m also very, very proud.

When I was a kid, I don’t think I ever once responded to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” by saying, “An editor.”

I confess, though, that messing with other people’s words does seem to come naturally to me. It’s something I started doing as early as my freshman year of college, when I made a little extra money by typing other guys’ papers, and in the process rewriting them and getting them better grades.

In fact, it was my ability to write that I credit for most of my academic success, even in law school. Some of my teachers actually encouraged me to become a writer, a possibility I entertained only briefly because I learned very early on that, while I may have a talent for making other people’s writing more readable, as a writer myself, I had nothing to say.

So when I took an entry-level production job at Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, I had no ulterior motive. This was not the path to greater glory—I just thought it would be fun to work with books. And it was. The work initially was kind of routine, but I was learning about publishing and I was hooked; from that point on, I never looked back, I never thought of changing direction. Transitioning from production to managing editor at Macmillan and then moving to Dell/Delacorte, I parlayed my knack for remaining calm in the midst of hysteria into a position as a plain old editor, where I was primarily assigned to edit things written by people whom nobody else wanted to work with.

A few years later, when interviewing with Michael Korda for a job at S&S, I got to draw on that knack again, because when Michael asked me, “What do you consider your greatest talent?” I responded without having to think, “Oh, I grovel well.”

And so here I am, with 44 years in the business behind me, having had the best time in the world, having gotten to work with amazingly talented writers, still groveling when I need to, and still looking forward to what will come my way tomorrow.

This whole journey has been amazing, getting to work with the wonderful bosses who trusted me and taught me everything I know—like Michael Korda, but also Carole Baron and Susan Moldow, and Bill Grose and Ross Claiborne, and now, working at the best place any editor could ever hope for, Algonquin Books, with Peter Workman and Elisabeth Scharlatt—getting to benefit from the friendship and guidance of dozens of editors more deserving than I of this award, friends that I’ve lost, like Ray Roberts and Faith Sale and Larry Ashmead, and friends that I hold as close as possible, editors like Bob Bender, and Michael Denneny, and Syd Miner, and Maggie Crawford, and Charlie Spicer, and my wonderful colleague in Algonquin’s Chapel Hill office—and my date for the evening—the incomparable Kathy Pories.

And last, but certainly not least, there are the writers, without whom I would have nothing to do. I’ve been incredibly blessed, getting to work with so many talented storytellers, so many gifted stylists, so many wonderful people. And I’ve also been very fortunate in getting to work on over 100 books that went on to become national bestsellers. But as all of you in this business know, many of our favorite books never find the success we believe they deserve, so I want to end by giving a shout-out to half-a-dozen of the best novels you probably never heard of, some of them by writers who have gone on to greater things, all of whom I would love to work with again someday:

John Lamb’s The End of Summer

Micaela Gilchrist’s The Good Journey

Rick Yancey’s A Burning in Homeland

Mimi Latt’s Powers of Attorney

Jack O’Connell’s The Resurrectionist


Manuel Muñoz’s What You See in the Dark

All of them wonderful books by great people.

The career I have had, the people I have worked with, the books that have been entrusted to me—it’s all been a great blessing, and being given this honor tonight definitely dots all my “i’s” and crosses all my “t’s.”This is wonderful; you are wonderful. Again, thank you.


One comment

  1. Congratulations, Chuck! If you ever decide to teach a course in Groveling Well, please reserve a front row seat for me. I also think it would make a great book title. You can put me down for a copy if you ever decide to write it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *