National News

Juris Jurjevics, Enterprising Publisher and Novelist, Dies at 75

Posted November 9, 2018 6:44 p.m. EST

Juris Jurjevics, a founder of Soho Press, an independent publisher that gambled on unsolicited manuscripts by emerging writers and produced serious novels and exotic crime stories, died Wednesday in the Bronx. He was 75.

The cause was heart disease, his child (who prefers that term), RF Jurjevics, said.

A Latvian-born refugee, Jurjevics (pronounced YUR-yeh-vitz) joined the publishing industry in 1968. He, Laura Chapman Hruska and her husband, Alan, founded Soho Press in 1968.

“We want to publish the books that deserve to be published but that the bigger houses can’t afford to do,” Jurjevics told The New York Times at the time.

Larger publishers needed to sell as many as 12,000 copies of a book just to break even, he said, but Soho, with lower overhead, could make a profit on sales of as few as 4,000.

“Our ambitions,” he added, “are not to have a certain percentage of growth a year and not to be bought by anybody.”

Soho, headquartered on Union Square in Manhattan, now publishes about 90 books a year under its imprints Soho Press, Soho Crime and Soho Teen. Its authors have included Edwidge Danticat, who wrote “Brother, I’m Dying” (2007), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award; actor and director Stephen Fry; and novelist and critic Dale Peck.

Laura Hruska died in 2010. Jurjevics retired from Soho Press in 2006 to write full time.

His first novel, “The Trudeau Vector” (2005), is a thriller that focuses on an American epidemiologist who travels to northern Canada, near the Arctic, to determine why scientists at a research center have mysteriously died. Publisher’s Weekly said the plot “twists and shines like the aurora borealis.”

His “Red Flags” (2011) draws on his wartime experience in Vietnam, where an Army police officer finds himself in an American outpost seething with spies, South Vietnamese profiteers and battle-weary troops as Viet Cong battalions prepare to descend from the hills.

He explained to Washington Independent Review of Books in 2011 why he had turned to writing. “I’ve been around it forever as an editor, mostly working on fixing whatever was ailing an author’s book,” he said. “I harbored the ambition but had little time to devote to it.”

Juris Jurjevics was born on April 26, 1943, in Tukums, Latvia, to Arveds Jurjevics and Elza Sudmalis. He and his family lived in refugee camps in Germany until they immigrated to New York in 1950.

After graduating from Concordia Preparatory School in Bronxville, New York, he attended Valparaiso University in Indiana and was drafted into the Army. When he returned, he went to work for Harper & Row (now HarperCollins), where he founded an employee union, and became an editor at Avon Books, a Harper subsidiary.

Jurjevics was later editor-in-chief of E.P. Dutton, where one day he scooped up a manuscript that had crossed his desk on a hunch that readers would clamor for a Sherlock Holmes revival. The manuscript, by Nicholas Meyer, was published in 1974 as “The Seven‐Per‐Cent Solution: Being a Reprint From the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D.” It became a best-seller, and the basis of a 1976 movie.

As editor-in-chief of the Dial Press, Jurjevics edited James Baldwin’s final novel, “Just Above My Head” (1979). He recently completed his own third novel, titled “Play the Red Queen.”

Jurjevics married Laurie Colwin, a novelist and short story writer, in 1983. After she died of a heart attack in 1992 at age 48, her reputation grew as a food writer, too. In 2012 she was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame.

In addition to their child, RF, Jurjevics is survived by his second wife, artist Jeanne Heifetz, whom he married in 1998; and his sister, Ruth Elken. He lived in Brooklyn.