Peter Mayer was born in London in 1936 and immigrated to the United States in 1939. He received his B.A. in English literature at Columbia College on a Ford Foundation scholarship and in 1954 matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford University where his field was PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics). He returned to Columbia in 1956 with a Summa Cum Laude degree in English literature, after which he served in the United States Merchant Marine before being granted a Graduate Fellowship in Comparative Literature at Indiana University followed by a Fulbright in 1959 to study German literature at the Freie Universitat in Berlin. In 1961 Peter was hired as a “go-fer” editorial assistant at Orion Press and in 1962 began a fourteen year tenure at Avon Books, rising from Education Editor to Editor-in-Chief before becoming Avon’s Publisher.
Tracy Carns and Peter Mayer
In the late 1970s Peter was appointed Publisher and President of Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster) before becoming the Penguin group’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (1978-1997) based in London and New York. As CEO, Peter oversaw Penguin’s UK, US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, German, Netherlands, and Indian companies receiving numerous industry honors including the Foundation of Indian Publishers’ and Booksellers’ Association’s award for Outstanding Contribution to International Publishing in 1996 and the Literary Marketplace Person of the Year Award as Most Distinguished Publisher. Between 1978 and 1982, Peter served twice on Harvard University Press’ Visiting Committee. In 1996 he was awarded the title Chevalier and Officier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. In 2007 Peter received the Poor Richard’s Award for Lifetime Contribution to Independent Publishing given by the New York Center for Independent Publishing. In 2008 he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the London Book Fair and in 2011 in Moscow received the Russian “Big Book Prize” for Distinguished International Achievement.
Peter Mayer and daughter Liese Mayer
Today Peter is the President and Publisher of The Overlook Press, which he founded with his father in 1971, Ardis Publishers, and in London Gerald Duckworth Publishers, Ltd and the Nonesuch Press. He is joined at Overlook by industry veterans Tracy Carns, George Davidson, and Bernie Schleifer as well as a dedicated staff of innovative younger colleagues.
In his career, Mayer has been a member of numerous trade associations, including the Association of American Publishers, the Frankfurt Bookfair Fellowship Board, the National Book Foundation, the NYU Publishers Advisory Board, the Read Russia Advisory Committee and the German Book Office. He has served on the Board of Directors of Scholastic since 2001.
He is the author and editor of four books and two translations.