Founded in 1931 by Jamie Hamilton, Hamish Hamilton quickly became one of Britain’s most distinguished literary lists, publishing in its early years such luminaries as Raymond Chandler and Albert Camus. One book that deserves special mention is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, as it exemplifies Jamie’s adventurousness. Bridging two generations, it was the novel of an era, and its Penguin editions have sold over two million copies. In 1964 Jamie Hamilton acquired another epochal title, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. After reading the manuscript in November he sent the following cable to the author:
THE MOST EXCITING AND HORRIFYING BOOK OF THE CENTURY DWARFING DOSTOYEVSKY STOP CONSTRUCTION CHARACTERISATION WRITING ALL BRILLIANT AND WORLDWIDE SENSATION ASSURED STOP.
Since the late 1990s the imprint has been guided by publisher Simon Prosser, and among its successes are Zadie Smith’s million-selling White Teeth, W.G. Sebald’s final prose fiction Austerlitz, Kiran Desai’s Man Booker Prize–winning The Inheritance of Loss, and Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival, which quickly became the canonical text on the new American imperialism. The year 2006 was an especially golden one for the imprint, with its authors winning all three of the UK’s major prizes: Kiran Desai the Man Booker, Zadie Smith the Orange, and Hilary Spurling the Whitbread.
Hamish Hamilton launched its first North American venture in 2009 with a Canadian operation based in Toronto, under the direction of Penguin Publisher Nicole Winstanley. Each year she hand-picks a roster of nine titles that thoughtfully align outstanding local talent with the most exciting voices from around the world. In the imprint’s eight-year existence, Winstanley has signed works by Scotiabank Giller Prize winners Joseph Boyden and Johanna Skibsrud, acclaimed Canadian novelists Lee Henderson, Kim Echlin, and Marjorie Celona, as well as Man Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson, Man Asian Literary Prize winner Miguel Syjuco and international luminaries such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Zadie Smith, David Cronenberg, Philip Roth, Ali Smith, Jim Crace, and the late Roberto Bolaño.
Over seventy years ago Jamie Hamilton’s inaugural catalogue opened with the words “This first Hamish Hamilton list looks like the start of a new lighthouse—it will be noticeable at a great distance in the dark.”
It is still alight and burning brightly, and reaching further than ever before.