Zacharius, Walter 1923-
Zacharius, Walter 1923-
PERSONAL: Born October 16, 1923, in New York, NY; son of Abraham and Sara (Cohen) Zacharius; married Alice M. Riesenberg, December 19, 1948; children: Steven Bruce, Judith Helen. Education: College of the City of New York, certificate, 1948; attended New York University, 1949-50; New School for Social Research (now New School University), certificate, 1949; Empire State University, B.A., 1977. Religion: Jewish
ADDRESSES: Office—Kensington Publishing Corp, 850 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022.
CAREER: McFadden Publishing, New York, NY, member of circulation department staff, 1947; Popular Library Book, Inc., New York, NY, member of circulation department staff, 1948-49; American Mercury, Inc., New York, NY, member of circulation department staff, 1949-51; Ace News Co., New York, NY, circulation director, 1951-61; Magnum Royal Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, president, 1961; Magnum Communications, New York, NY, president, 1961; Lancer Book, Inc., New York, NY, vice president, 1961-75; Walter Zacharius Associates, Inc., founder and president, 1964; Kensington Publishing, New York, NY, founder, chairman, and chief executive officer, 1974-2005, chairman emeritus and consultant, 2005-.
Committee on World Human Rights, member, 1968; Friends of Hofstra Museum of Fine Arts, member, 1969; Democratic committeeman, 1969; Reform Democratic Association of Great Neck, NY, vice president, 1970; United Cerebral Palsy of Queens, vice president of trustees, 1975; United Cerebral Palsy of Queens, president, 1986-89; Friends of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, member, 1989; North Shore Community Arts Center, president; United Jewish Appeal Federation, chairman of publishing division, 1988-90; Park Council, City of New York, member of advisory board; Gallatin School, New York University, member of advisory board. Military service: U.S. Army, 1942-45, served in European and Mediterranean theaters of operation.
MEMBER: American Book Publishers Association, Periodicals Book Association of America, Independent Newspaperstand Circulators of America, Association of American Publishers.
AWARDS, HONORS: Public Relations award, United Cerebral Palsy of Queens, 1970; Award of Honor, United Jewish Appeal Federation Campaign, 1987; Distinguished Service Award, United Jewish Appeal, 1992; Appreciation Award, United Jewish Appeal—Federation of New York, Publishing Division, 1993; certificate of distinction, New York University, Gallatin division, 1993.
Songbird (novel), Atria Books (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Walter Zacharius worked in the publishing industry for over fifty years before he published his first book, the novel Songbird. As he explained on the Songbird Web site, Zacharius began writing the book in the 1980s on a dare from a coworker, after he told her a story about a woman he met while fighting in World War II. "I told her that, because of the people involved, it could only be written as a novel," Zacharius explained, adding that the woman's "reaction to the story and its characters made me sit down with a pen and a legal pad and start writing."
The songbird of the book's title is Marisa "Mia" Levy, a young Polish-Jewish woman who dreams of a career in music until the Nazis invade Poland and her life falls apart. Her family is sent to a concentration camp, but Mia escapes and begins working with the Jewish Resistance in Warsaw. The Resistance eventually manages to smuggle Mia out of Nazi-occupied Europe, allowing her to travel to Brooklyn, New York, where she has family. She tries to start a new life there, even falling in love with an American musician, Vinnie Sforza, but when she gets the opportunity to return to occupied Europe as a spy for the French Resistance she takes it. In Paris Mia works as a dominatrix at a brothel patronized by high-ranking Nazis—demeaning work that never the less gives her unparalleled opportunities to get information of use to the Resistance.
As Booklist critic Hazel Rochman explained, Zacharius's "searing first novel covers a huge sweep of Holocaust history even as it offers an intimate view of the personal-survivor experience." The section of the book about Mia's escape and work for the Resistance is the "strongest," maintained a Publishers Weekly critic, noting that the book is "distinguished by Zacharius's meticulous recreation of Polish Jewish life under early Nazi occupation—scenes set within the Jewish ghettos are harrowing and unforgettable." Songbird "won't appeal to everyone," Marika Zemke wrote in Library Journal, "but readers who enjoy spy thrillers and/or historical thrillers will like it."
Zacharius told CA: "I wanted to be a writer and publisher since I was fourteen years old. I spent a great deal of time in the libraries in Brooklyn and felt that I wanted to be part of the publishing process. Writing was a dream that finally came true when I reached the age of eighty. I am still planning to write another novel.
"The works of Ernest Hemingway always fascinated me. At times I wished that I were he. I was also interested in Mario Puzo, and I published his first book The Fortunate Pilgrim.
"For a long time I thought about how I was going to write Songbird. I found it much more difficult when I had to rewrite a good part of the book. Cutting and rewriting to me is a very difficult process.
"After publishing close to 50,000 books in paperback, trade, and hardbound I found that it was easier being a publisher than a writer. As a writer you are working alone and many times you are exposing yourself, which at first I found very difficult. I finally realized that I had to put myself into the book somehow in order for it to work. Songbird is my first book and I am very proud of it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Songbird, p. 1705.
Chicago Tribune, October 24, 2004, Denise I. O'Neal, "At 80, Publisher Discovers Joys of Writing His First Novel," Sunday Showcase section, p. 8.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2004, review of Songbird, p. 660.
Library Journal, September 15, 2004, Marika Zemke, review of Songbird, p. 51.
Publishers Weekly, May 13, 1996, Jim Milliot, "Kensington Aims to Diversify Publishing Program," p. 16; April 7, 2003, John F. Baker, "Kensington Publisher Walter Zacharius Has Written a First Novel," p. 12; July 26, 2004, Jeff Zaleski, "A Publisher Writes" (interview), p. 36, review of Songbird, p. 37.
USA Today, August 26, 2004, Christina Jeng, "Songbird Honors an Unsung War Hero," p. B13.
Kensington Books Web site, http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/ (March 4, 2005), "Walter Zacharius."
Songbird Web site, http://www.songbirdthenovel.com/ (March 4, 2005).