Roger W. Straus Jr., 87, a Guggenheim heir who co-founded one of the great publishing houses of the 20th century, died Tuesday of pneumonia at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, according to his son, Roger Straus III.
The longtime head of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, he was among the last of the true old-fashioned publishers. He ran his own company for more than half a century, holding on even as the book world evolved from a small, clannish community to an increasingly impersonal, money-minded business.
In 1945, Mr. Straus and fellow publisher John Farrar formed Farrar, Straus & Company, Inc., eventually becoming known for emphasizing literary quality over commercial success. It often achieved both. Its reputation became all the greater in 1955 when editor Robert Giroux was hired from Harcourt, Brace, bringing with him T.S. Eliot, Flannery O'Connor, Bernard Malamud, Robert Lowell and many other major authors.
"Oh, my goodness, he was such a character!" Alice McDermott, author of such acclaimed fiction as That Night and Charming Billy, said Thursday. "When I met him, I felt like I had stepped into a Noel Coward play. He was wonderful, everything you imagined a New York literary publisher should be like, with his ascot and his wealthy accent and his charm and his humor."
Mr. Straus disparaged corporate influence, vowing not to be "a division of Kleenex, or whatever," but FSG sold controlling interest in 1994 to the German publisher Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck.
Still, the company kept up a near annual tradition of publishing award-winning novels. Recent works included two Pulitzer Prize winners (Michael Cunningham's The Hours and Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex) and three National Book Award winners (Susan Sontag's In America, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire).
"Many people have accused me of being an elitist," Mr. Straus once said. "I'm guilty. I am an elitist. I like good books."