Carol Houck Smith, who edited generations of the nation's most distinguished poets and authors, died Nov. 28 or 29 at her home in New York. She was 85.
The medical examiner has not yet determined the cause of death, her legal executor said.
Smith spent her entire 60-year publishing career at W.W. Norton & Co., starting as a secretary and working her way up to vice president. She edited three U.S. poets laureate: Rita Dove, Stanley Kunitz and Maxine Kumin. She edited three National Book Award-winning books, by Kunitz, Andrea Barrett and Gerald Stern as well as multiple finalists. She edited the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Different Hours" by Stephen Dunn (2000) and three other Pulitzer finalists.
"She was a wonderful little dynamo," said Dove, whose upcoming work of poetry, "Sonata Mulattica" was being edited by Smith when she died. "She was so sensitive to how a writer works and giving her space."
Described by the Salt Lake Tribune as the "antithesis of the caustic New Yorker," Smith was often a panelist at writers' conferences, where she took the adulation from young authors and poets with a grain of salt and a sense of humor.
"They look at you partly like you're Mother Teresa and partly like you're some rock star," she told the New York Times in 1994.
"I guess it's because you're from New York and you represent the whole publishing business, which to them is this giant, looming thing, like in a Thurber cartoon."
Carol Houck was born in 1923 in Buffalo, N.Y., and graduated from Vassar College in 1944.
After working at Standard Brands in New York City, she joined Norton in 1948.
Her determined progress out of the secretarial pool represented a breakthrough for women as editors in what was then a male-dominated profession. She became an editor in the mid-1960s and was appointed a vice president in March 1980. She was named an editor-at-large upon her official retirement from Norton in July 1996, but she continued reporting to the office every day, with her retirement heralding one of the most distinguished and fruitful periods of her career.
Hunter Smith, her husband of six years, died in 1975. They had no children. She had no immediate family survivors and is survived by a niece and three nephews.
Instead of flowers, contributions may be made to any of three scholarships endowed in her name: The Carol Houck Smith Scholarship in Poetry at Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, The Carol Houck Smith Scholarship in Fiction at Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin.