You are here

Obituary: Carol Southern Keneas '52

Carol Southern Keneas died July 2, 2011 in New York City after complications arising from surgery for cancer. Known professionally as Carol Southern, she was a book editor with a clean, elegant and distinctive style. She made her mark on the publishing world as an editor at Random House in the 1980s. She first became known for her “style” books (Hi-Tech, Italian Style, etc.) and discovered Martha Stewart, the doyenne of the ‘”style” craze. A favorite of authors, Southern put her light and sure touch on a diverse range of projects, many of which defined the genre they seemed to create, such as the “Illustrated lifestyle” books that took off in the 1980s. She edited a wide range of books, with equal attention to detail and clarity, including “Jackson Pollock: An American Tragedy,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1981. She was also responsible for the Angelina Ballerina books.

Born Carol Kauffman in Silver Springs, Md., she was an art student living in Greenwich Village who also attended Bank Street School, where she majored in Child Development. In 1955, she met Terry Southern, a writer newly returned from Paris, who had just been published in Harper’s magazine — Southern’s first appearance in print in the U.S. She met Southern at a party in the loft of photographer Robert Frank in 1955. Terry Southern’s books “Candy” and “The Magic Christian” led to his co-writing or writing of screenplays for films including “Dr. Strangelove” and “Easy Rider.” His work established him as a ‘60s icon who even appeared on the cover of The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

After marrying Southern, and living with him on a barge in the Hudson River, the couple moved to Geneva, where she worked at the UN School as an elementary school teacher from 1956-1960. Impelled by her husband’s desire to get back to his “material” in the States, the couple returned to New York where they were soon at the center of several vibrant literary circles. Among their friends were William Styron, George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, John Marquand, Larry Rivers, Jerry Leiber, and playwrights Arthur Kopit, Jack Gelber, and Arnold Weinstein.

Her marriage to Southern ended in 1965, but she continued to be close with what her former husband called the “Quality Lit’” crowd. She married Alex Keneas, film critic for Newsday (who died in 1986), and recently edited and helped to publish “Dead Reckoning; a memoir of World War II in the Aegean,” a book by George Passpati, her sometime companion in Greece, with an introduction by Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Ms. Southern was Executive Editor of Clarkson Potter Publishers, part of the Random House group, from 1976-1981. She helped establish its reputation as a publisher of high quality, commercially viable non-fiction and illustrated books, among them the book on Jackson Pollock which was a best-seller and the basis for the feature film. From 1981 to 1993, she was editor-in chief of Clarkson Potter, and in 1993 was awarded her own imprint at Random House: Carol Southern Books. Some of her titles include: “Smart Women, Foolish Choices,” “How to Make Love to a Man,” and “When Kafka was the Rage.”

For the last decade or so of her life, Ms. Southern was semi-retired from book-making, having returned to her original passion — painting. Her watercolors were recently exhibited in a one-woman show at a gallery in Athens’s Kolonaki Square. She enjoyed long periods of residence on the East End, renting from Southampton to Amagansett summer after summer, until buying a small house on Franklin Avenue in Sag Harbor. After the death of her husband, Alex Keneas, she sold it to by a lovely old home in North Haven, where she spent much time over the past 20 years in an area replete with the many writers, editors, publishers and artists who were her friends and admirers.

About Ms. Southern’s talent as an editor, authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith said, “Genuine editorial support — a combination of conscientious scrutiny and loving encouragement — is the rarest reward an author can receive. We were lucky enough to have that support from Carol Southern for our biography of Jackson Pollock that won the Pulitzer Prize — an encomium that will always belong as much to Carol as to us. Editing the way Carol practiced it was not a profession but an art — sadly, a disappearing art that has now lost one of its living treasures.”

“She is completely responsible for Angelina Ballerina’s great success,” added Katherine Holabird, author of the Angelina Ballerina series. “Without Carol, her loving encouragement and deft touch — there would be no Angelina Ballerina. We owe it all to her.”

“I have the reputation for being the kind of good line editor you don’t see around much anymore,” said Ms. Southern in 1998. By her wish, Ms. Southern was interred at Sag Harbor’s Oakland Cemetery in a Buddhist ceremony, July 5, 2011. She is survived by her son, Nile Southern; his wife, Theodosia Southern; and their daughters, NefelI and Chloe Southern.