Upton Brady; erudite editor led Atlantic Monthly Press

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / April 4, 2008

As Atlantic Monthly Press decamped in 1986 from a stately Back Bay townhouse to the bustle of midtown Manhattan, Upton Birnie Brady took the long view of what the move might mean.

Prompted by an ownership change, the departure of the publishing house caused some to fret about the impact on Boston's venerable literary traditions. But Mr. Brady, then executive editor, told the Globe that Boston publishing was a "state of mind less parochial than New York's." And he suggested he would "take some of that Boston civilizing effect to New York."

Two years later, he left Atlantic Monthly Press, which he had led for a decade of his 23 years there. Bringing his own civilizing effect to new ventures as a literary agent and freelance editor, he worked from an outpost in Hartland, a town in eastern Vermont.

Mr. Brady died of heart failure March 19 in the house he shared with his wife in the Hartland Four Corners area of town. He was 69.

Clad in a Brooks Brothers suit, freshly-shined shoes, and frequently a bow tie, Mr. Brady had arrived each day at the Atlantic's townhouse on Arlington Street and helped guide into publication books that went on to win major awards. He knew, however, that publishing was about more than laurels.

"He had a sign over his desk which says, 'No Gambling,' which pretty much says what he thinks about the publishing industry," Sally Ryder Brady said of her husband. "It's a gamble."

To that roll of the dice he brought a list of talents few would seek in an editor, though he also was as handy as they come with words and sentences.

"He had a very discerning eye and was a very tough editor, but subtly tough," said Robert Manning, former editor of The Atlantic Monthly magazine.

Once relieved of his suit and tie, however, Mr. Brady defied any stereotype that might leap to mind about a Harvard graduate who majored in the classics and could speak Latin.

"Upton could do anything," his wife said. "He could do plumbing. He could rewire houses. He could make slipcovers. He was a fabulous seamster, as we called it."

Early in their marriage when money was tight, Mr. Brady made his wife's dresses, "and not from patterns, either," she said. "He would just cut."

Born in Washington, D.C., Mr. Brady was a child when his family moved to Rhode Island, where his father became lay headmaster at Portsmouth Abbey School. Mr. Brady attended Harvard on an ROTC scholarship, graduating in 1959, and then spent two years in the Navy.

"With the splendid illogic characteristic of the Navy, I was made an electrical officer," he wrote in the sixth-year report of his Harvard class. He added in his 25th anniversary report: "This descent from the apparently sublime to the seemingly ridiculous balanced my education and prepared me for getting a job. Theoretically, anyway."

Upon being discharged, Mr. Brady sought guidance from Harvard's placement office, which suggested he try the publishing field. Beginning by selling college textbooks on the road for the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house, he later moved to McGraw-Hill and edited typing textbooks.

"It's true: A classical education prepares you for anything," he wrote of that job in the 25th anniversary class report.

Mr. Brady married Sally Ryder in 1962, and they moved to Boston in 1965, when he was hired by Atlantic Monthly Press. He noted dryly in the class report: "The press publishes a small list of books that we feel has both literary and commercial appeal. The critics and the book-buying public do not always agree with us."

Sometimes they did, though, and Mr. Brady's gambles on literary quality paid off. Among the books published during his tenure were Frances FitzGerald's "Fire in the Lake" in 1972 and Tracy Kidder's "The Soul of a New Machine" in 1981, each of which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

"The received wisdom in publishing was that no one wanted a Vietnam book," Mr. Brady said in a 1981 Globe interview about "Fire in the Lake," which also won a National Book Award.

Kidder's book did so well that the author recalled being sent to New York City to sign copies at bookstores after it was reviewed favorably by The New York Times, only to find it had sold out, in part, Kidder said, because the publishing house had cautiously ordered a small first printing.

At work, Mr. Brady "was a rather formal guy," said Llewellyn Howland, a friend who is a writer and former senior editor at the Little, Brown and Co. publishing house in Boston. "I don't mean he was stuffy. Formal in the sense that there was an element of Old World about him. I miss it even thinking about him. He was a much more measured man and took a long view of everything."

At home, where Mr. Brady and his wife often invited friends for the family's Sunday lunch, "there was the formality of cutting the roast or cutting the turkey," Howland said. "Upton was simply beatific when he was a host, because he loved it so much. He believed in it. He believed families should be together."

"He hung onto his boyishness much more than most people, and that made him a welcome addition to any gathering," said John Sedgwick, a writer in Cambridge and a friend of the Bradys.

During annual Christmas parties at another friend's house, "Upton could be counted on to sing something from Gilbert and Sullivan," Sedgwick said. "I will never forget those apple cheeks of his, swollen in song."

In addition to his wife, Mr. Brady leaves three sons, Andrew of San Francisco, Nathaniel of Carlisle, and Alexander of New York City; a daughter, Sarah Brady Underwood of Brooklyn, Conn.; three sisters, Sue Wankowicz of Winchester, Ellen Finn of Franklin, Mich., and Lucy Talbott of Mobile, Ala.; a brother, Jeremiah of Little Falls, N.J.; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow in Portsmouth Abbey in Portsmouth, R.I.

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