General Colin Powell Remembered As Random House Author

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Colin Powell, Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

The death of Colin L. Powell on October 18, at 84, has brought forth worldwide appreciation for this great American, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first Black U.S. Secretary of State. It has also triggered fond memories of many past and present colleagues at Random House of his enormous bestselling 1995 memoir, “My American Journey,” written with Joseph D. Persico.

Colin Powell was America’s most popular military figure. As such, getting him to write his autobiography was a Holy Grail-like pursuit for many publishers.

Graduating City College, in Harlem, where he was born, and near the Bronx, where he grew up, Powell went right into the Army as a second lieutenant. He rose through the ranks through two tours of duty in Vietnam to become a four-star general, and Joint Chiefs leader, from 1989-1993, in charge of the Panama and Kuwait engagements, and the Gulf War in 1991.

Powell was noncommittal for a long time about writing a book. While he flirted with many publishing suitors— meeting in 1993 at his request with Bantam Doubleday Dell CEO Jack Hoeft and publicity chief Stuart Applebaum in his Pentagon office— he ultimately signed with Random House, whom he later privately admitted was always his first choice, in part because of his respect for CEO Alberto Vitale and Publisher Harry Evans.

As speculation swirled and intensified on the nightly newscasts and newspaper front pages whether he would run for U.S. President on the Republican ticket, the General unflappably worked on his book with Mr. Persico and his editor Jonathan Karp (now head of Simon & Schuster).

A “history with vision,” “My American Journey” was published in 1995 to much critical acclaim: The New York Times Book Review said it was “A great American success story…an endearing and well-written book,” with the Wall Street Journal observing, “Profound and moving…Must reading for anyone who wants to reaffirm his faith in the promise of America.”

General Powell was as committed to his author service to Random House as he was to his military service to his country. Putnam, Dutton, and Berkley President Ivan Held, then a Random House publicist under Carol Schneider, recalls accompanying him to twenty-eight cities in twenty days. “He performed every piece of PR and book signing with aplomb. Some of his signings had over 1,000 people—and everyone felt like they had a moment with him.” It was a runaway bestseller.

The following year, the General also went out on tour, with publicist Kim Hovey, for the Ballantine paperback edition.

The Ballantine edition was updated in 2003–and may now enjoy a whole new readership.

Colin L. Powell

Remembered by us with respect
as a great
Random House author and a Great American.

Posted: October 18, 2021