Born in New York City in 1926, Lawrence attended Harvard University (graduating in 1948) and lived in Connecticut for most of his life. During his publishing career, which spanned 40 years, he served as director and editor-in-chief of the Atlantic Monthly Press in Boston (1954-64) and was editorial Vice President of Alfred A. Knopf in 1964. In 1965, he created his own independent imprint, Seymour Lawrence, Inc. and entered into an agreement with Dell Publishing and it’s hardcover division Delacorte Press. He began co-publishing with E.P. Dutton in 1982, and in 1988 he joined forces with Houghton Mifflin.
Lawrence introduced many eminent authors into the world. Katherine Anne Porter, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, Richard Ford, Barry Hannah, Jim Harrison, and Joseph Heller were among dozens of the renowned authors he discovered and published. Additionally, he published four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Miguel Angel Asturias, Camilo Jose Cela, Pablo Neruda, and George Seferis.
Notorious in the publishing industry for the nurturing of new writers, Lawrence made it a practice to visit the authors he represented. One of his authors, Barry Hannah, drew him to Oxford. Lawrence became so enamored of Oxford that he purchased a home near Rowan Oak and joined our community. At a party in 1990 for Mr. Lawrence at Houghton Mifflin, John Evans, the owner of Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson (who had sold more books published by Lawrence than any other bookseller at the time) said in tribute, “Sam has given the reader a fine bowl of literary gumbo.”
Upon his death in 1994, his collection of Contemporary American Art came to the University of Mississippi Museum with an initial gift for the construction of the gallery. With funds for it’s completion from the University and the state of Mississippi, the Seymour Lawrence Gallery was dedicated in 1998. Many important 20th century artists comprise this collection including, Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Man Ray, Arthur Dove and many others.