One of the UK’s most famous literary imprints – Jonathan Cape, whose very first book published in 1921 explored the Arab World – celebrates its centenary this year, with parent company Penguin Random House unveiling a series of initiatives.
These include a series of ‘Cape in Conversation’ podcasts, featuring some of the list’s leading writers, including Salman Rushdie; an interview with publisher Michal Shavit to appear in the Bookseller in March; and a series of events with Bad Form, a literary magazine by and about black, Asian and ‘racialized community writers’.
The celebrations have already seen an oral history of one of the list’s most famous novels, Ian McEwan’s Atonement. This went live last week on Penguin.co.uk and gave a behind-the-scenes look at the novel’s publishing, including interviews with editor Dan Franklin, cover designer Suzanne Dean, the photographer who shot the famous jacket, the producer of the film and of course McEwan himself.
The list has a striking centenary colophon this year, which incorporates the publisher’s famous bowl of fruit image and will be used across all communications throughout the year. Publicity Director Joe Picking says the guiding principles for the centenary campaign were to “Celebrate Jonathan Cape’s heritage, current list and future publishing – a moment to look to the next 100 years as well as reflecting on the past. We also want to celebrate a diverse list of books and authors, reaching readers from all backgrounds, and create opportunities to launch new voices and connect our new publishing with readers.”
He added: “At Jonathan Cape our publishing has been setting trends for a century. Our carefully curated list, respected and admired across the globe, ranges from commercial to literary fiction, pioneering graphic novels to award-winning poetry, and rich non-fiction spanning memoir, nature writing and ground-breaking ideas books. But regardless of form or genre, excellence is at the heart of all we publish.”
Jonathan Cape was founded in 1921 by Herbert Jonathan Cape, a former errand boy for Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly (now owned by Waterstones). The new publisher’s first publication was risky: a high-priced, two-volume edition of CM Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta, first published, unsuccessfully, in 1888. However, in the Twenties the mood in the country was different: the First World War was over and there was a desire to explore, to travel. Cape’s edition was a success and had to be reprinted several times. More importantly, it drew admiration from TE Lawrence and Cape would go on to publish Lawrence’s famous Seven Pillars of Wisdom and other titles. The publisher’s path was set and over the following decades, Cape would publish everyone from Hemingway to James Bond’s creator Peter Fleming.
Cape died in 1959, aged 80. The firm merged with Chatto & Windus in 1969, with Bodley Head and Virago coming on board in subsequent years. In 1987 Cape was bought by Random House, and today it is a part of Vintage Publishing within Penguin Random House.
Shavit said: “Cape’s centenary is an exciting opportunity to celebrate our extraordinary writers—past, present, and future—and to pay tribute to our readers. Storytelling and the written word have a crucial part to play in our culture and Jonathan Cape has been at the heart of that culture for over 100 years.
“Publishing is a wonderful collaborative endeavour, involving the minds and efforts of so many people. It’s fantastic to be able to celebrate this anniversary with a focus on our beautiful list of books, and in collaborations that celebrate the range of our international list.”