L. E. “Les” Phillabaum, the director emeritus of LSU Press, died suddenly on Wednesday, January 14, 2009. “All of us at LSU Press are shocked and saddened by Les’s death,” said current LSU Press director MaryKatherine Callaway. “He leaves behind a rich legacy to the world of university press publishing in the many distinguished books he brought into print. Those of us who knew him will always be grateful for his remarkably kind nature, deep knowledge of the world of books, and enthusiastic willingness to share that knowledge with us.”
Phillabaum joined LSU Press in 1970 as an editor and associate director and served as director from 1975 until his retirement in 2003, a time of tremendous growth at the publishing house. During his tenure, the press published more than 1,700 books, worked with close to 1,300 authors, and more than doubled both its yearly title output and its staff size.
Writers and works published under his watch collected more than 200 awards. Perhaps the most famous book he helped publish, John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, a first for a university press publication. Among the more than 200 books of poetry published under Phillabaum’s directorship, two, Henry Taylor’s The Flying Change and Lisel Mueller’s Alive Together won Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. In 2005, LSU Press established the L. E. Phillabaum Poetry Award to honor its former director’s distinguished career and his long commitment to poetry.
In 2003, the Fellowship of Southern Writers made Phillabaum an honorary member for “his service to the cause of southern literature.” In a citation read during the induction ceremony, renowned literary scholar Louis D. Rubin, Jr., said of Phillabaum “It is the books that he has published that others would not, and the literary careers that he has made possible, that most of all make his name a bench-mark in southern letters… He is an ornament to his profession, to his university and to the South.”
Phillabaum is survived by his wife, Robbie; their daughter Diane and her husband; their son Scott and his wife; and two grandsons, Trey and Stephen. Visitation for Les
Phillabaum will be Monday, January 19 from 1-3 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall
followed by a memorial service at 3:00 p.m. in the sanctuary at University
Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge.