Yesterday we celebrated Elizabeth Jones Ballantine (September 25, 1919 – February 12, 2019), better known as Betty Ballantine, an American publisher, editor, and writer.
She was born during the Raj to a British colonial family. After her marriage to Ian Ballantine in 1939, she moved to New York where they created Bantam Books in 1945 and established Ballantine Books in 1952.
They became freelance publishers in the 1970s. Their son, Richard, was an author and journalist specializing in cycling topics. Betty and her husband Ian helped invent the modern paperback through their Bantam and Ballantine books.
Paperbacks in America were not popular until the Ballantines improved the quality of the product and offered better titles. The pair were instrumental in establishing the market for science fiction and fantasy novels by releasing the paperback version of “The Hobbit” by Tolkien and were the original publishers for Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, along with titles from Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl.
“We really, truly wanted and did publish books that mattered. And science fiction matters, because it’s of the mind, it predicts, it thinks, it says, ‘Look at what’s happening here. If that’s what’s happening here and now, what’s it going to look like ten years from now, 50 years from now, or 2,000 years from now?’ It’s a form of magic. Not acracadabra or wizadry. It is the minds of humankind that make this magic.” said Ballantine in a 2002 interview with Locus Online.
That’s why it’s on my calendar every year to raise a toast to one of my heroes. When the woman’s empowerment movement was still wearing garters and hose, Betty was already empowered. Without her insight and foresight Tolkein may not be the household he is now. She opened literacy to the masses, moving beyond the pulp trash to bring crafted stories to the grocery store shelves. She realized the potential of the speculative genre, and made it widely available.
I can toast to that.