Jake Page: No Science . . . or Hobbits!

Jake Page Part 1: Artist and Student

by Jim Turner

Author Jake Page

Author Jake Page

Jake Page is the author of more than forty books, including his recent one from Rio Nuevo Publishers, Uprising, The Pueblo Indians and the First American War for Religious Freedom.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 24th, 1936, James Keena “Jake” Page Jr. has been everything from a ranch hand to a hard-rock miner—not your typical book worm. In addition to being the founding editor of Doubleday’s Natural History Press, editorial director of Natural History magazine, and science editor of Smithsonian magazine, Jake has written or co-authored almost fifty books, as well as hundreds of columns and magazine articles.

But Jake didn’t start out to be a writer. He said that in elementary school he was more interested in drawing. “I drew the neighbors’ dogs, I made up superheroes, and I invented a place of trees and ponds in which a host of little tiny men in black high hats worked making a village out of the place—my only foray into city planning.” He does admit, however, that he usually won the class spelling bee as well, so words have always been important to him.

pic from gunnery-org

Gunn Dormitory, named for the school’s founder.

Jake spent his high school years at The Gunnery, a small prep school in Washington, Connecticut founded in 1850. Jake’s grandfather Hamilton Gibson was the school’s third headmaster from 1922–1937, and his great grandfather—the noted naturalist and author William Hamilton Gibson—was a student of the school’s founder Frederick Gunn (an abolitionist and outdoorsman who invented leisure camping in the United States) in the class of 1866.

Jake Page sport coat (1)

Jake in his school blazer

Of his years at the Gunnery, Jake said he “avoided science courses after one prerequisite and was headed for a liberal arts education.” He entered the school in 1949, and according to the yearbook, Jake was the  “Highest Scholar” in the school, co-winner of the Headmaster’s Prize, the “Highest Scholar” in Grade 12, and noted for excellence in Art, English, Latin, and Romance Languages (but not science or natural history).

JK Page desk

The scholar at work

He graduated cum laude,  was a cheerleader, played on the Junior varsity football and tennis and varsity basketball teams, and was a member of the Red and Gray Board (yearbook), the Gunnery News board, Glee Club, the Politics and Debating Club, and the Dance Committee. He also spent his international fellowship in England, where they spent three months on an in-depth literary analysis of Hamlet.

From there Jake attended Princeton University, where he took part in a newly created program called “American Civilization.” The curriculum included history, literature, and religion, but no science courses. He said that he and Professor John William Ward, the man who created this innovative program, became great friends after Jake graduated. Jake’s senior thesis examined how Henry Adams and Henry David Thoreau used creative art to describe their understanding of the new world of technology. In spite of himself, science began to nose its way into his literary consciousness.

After graduating from Princeton in 1958, Jake attended the short-lived New York University’s Graduate Institute of Book Publishing. There, the curriculum consisted of learning from experts in various aspects of publishing in the morning and then apprenticing in actual publishing houses in the afternoons. Jake was apprenticed to Doubleday and Company, Inc., where he said, “my first job was moving books in the basement, then to selling books on the floor, then being first reader for over-the-transom (sent without prior agreement) offerings—they all flunked in my regime.”

Anchor booksThe Graduate Institute folded after one year, but not before Jake was awarded a Master of Arts degree in 1959. He didn’t even leave the building for his first professional position as one of five editors at Doubleday’s Anchor Books. Founded in 1953, Anchor Books is the oldest trade paperback publisher in America. Their mission was to publish inexpensive volumes of modern classics for adults and college students.

When asked about his most indelible career moments there, Jake replied, “Most memorably, the editor in chief of Anchor shot down my notion that we should publish a fascinating trilogy by an English author, so the whole billion dollar Hobbit enterprise was taken on by Ballantine. My boss said Hobbits were not appropriate for a publisher of books for college students.” A regrettable decision if there ever was one.

So those are Jake’s early years, from grade school artist to prep school star to his first big editing job. In the next installment we’ll see how science steered his career in an unexpected but rewarding direction. Regarding Doubleday and American Museum of Natural History books, Jake said, “my job was to edit them so that any idiot could read them. I was any idiot then for the next seven years.”

Jim Turner is an historian, editor, teacher, researcher, and author. He received his masters degree in U.S. history from the University of Arizona and is now an editor for Rio Nuevo Publishers. He writes history articles for various newspapers around the state, and his pictorial history book, “Arizona: Celebrating the Grand Canyon State,” was named  a “Top Pick” for Southwest Books of the Year by the Friends of the Pima County Library. You may reach him at jimturnerhistorian@gmail.com.

Rio Nuevo Publishers Author Bio Series

Over the past several decades, Rio Nuevo Publishers has provided its readers with scores of beautiful, informative, and entertaining books. But behind each book is another fascinating story, the life of its writer. French novelist Colette said, “there is no such thing as an ordinary cat,” and the same applies to authors.

We hope you will enjoy getting to know these authors as we have, and that you appreciate their books even more once you have a glimpse into their worlds.

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One Response to Jake Page: No Science . . . or Hobbits!

  1. Jim Turner says:

    What a life — I can hardly wait to see what he gets up to next!

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