Remembering Dinah Stevenson

Created February 06, 2024 by Sarah Diamond


The renowned editor and publisher of Clarion Books died at the age of 81.

Dinah Stevenson was born in California in 1942. Her father was Louis Solomon (television producer and writer), and her mother was Wilma Shore (writer and feminist). Both of her parents were also experienced teachers. 

Her early years were spent in Los Angeles, and the family moved to New York City after her parents were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. A graduate of New York’s Elisabeth Irwin High School, Dinah received her degree in English literature from the University of Chicago. While at the university, she also worked part-time at the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary. From her first job in publishing as a copyeditor at J. B. Lippincott Books for Young Readers, she moved into editorial work. After Lippincott was bought by Harper & Row in 1978, Dinah worked for Knopf Books for Young Readers, and from Knopf, she joined Lothrop, Lee, and Shepherd, where she worked with Dorothy Briley. In 1989, Dinah moved with Dorothy to Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin, and she became Clarion’s publisher in 1998. 

In her time at Clarion, Dinah edited scores of award-winning books, including three Caldecott medal winners: Golem, written and illustrated by David Wisneski (1996); The Three Pigs, written and illustrated by David Wiesner (2001); and Flotsam, also by David Wiesner (2006). She also edited two Newbery medal winners: The Midwife’s Apprentice, by Karen Cushman, whose career she launched with the Newbery Honor-winning Catherine, Called Birdy; and A Single Shard, by Linda Sue Park, whose first manuscript Dinah discovered in the slush pile. When The Three Pigs and A Single Shard won the Caldecott and Newbery medals in 2002, Dinah became one of only three editors whose books were awarded the nation’s two highest children’s book honors in the same year.

Dinah’s books also won the Sibert Medal three years in a row: The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, by James Cross Giblin (2003); An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, by Jim Murphy (2004), which also received a Newbery Honor and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award; and The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marion Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights, by Russell Freedman (2005), which was also awarded a Newbery Honor. Additional honors for her books included the Coretta Scott King Author Award for A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riots of 1919, by Claire Hartfield (2018). In 2010, Dinah published Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water, which has remained a fixture on the New York Times bestseller list week after week for over a decade. Though she officially retired in 2020, she continued to work on select editorial projects through the end of last year, including Gary D. Schmidt’s The Labors of Hercules Beal, which received multiple starred reviews and appeared several “Best of 2023” lists.

An eager traveler, Dinah maintained substantial international publishing ties, with a particular connection to the UK, to which she journeyed annually, and she was a regular at the Bologna Book Fair. Dinah delighted in music, regularly attending classical music concerts throughout New York City, as well as singing in choruses for many years. Connecting with people from all walks of life and possessing a sharp sense of humor, she was also a noted foodie and excellent cook, hosting substantial gatherings in the kitchen and backyard of her beloved Hoboken townhouse. Revered for her exquisite taste and editorial brilliance, Dinah was beloved not only by her authors, but also by colleagues across departments and at all stages of their careers, as she knew each of them and cared about them as individuals. A quiet but unmistakable force, Dinah was a towering figure in children’s literature whose legacy continues in the careers—authorial and within publishing—that she launched, in the ongoing success of Clarion Books and its commitment to amplifying traditionally marginalized perspectives, and in the books that will live for generations. 

Dinah died in Hoboken, New Jersey, on January 23, 2024. She is survived by her husband, Ben Mayo, and her sister, Hilary Bendich, along with her nieces, Nora Oldwin and Bridget Bendich, and nephew, Jonathan Bendich, and their children. Information about a memorial celebration will be forthcoming. Donations in her honor can be made to the Hoboken Public Library.