Beacon Press: About the Director, Helene Atwan
Login Cart

About the Director, Helene Atwan

Helene Atwan is the Director of Beacon Press, an independent non-profit book publisher founded in 1854. She began her publishing career in 1976 at Random House in New York as an assistant editor in their College Division, before moving to Alfred A. Knopf in 1977 as a publicity associate. She then joined The Viking Press in 1979 as the associate director of publicity. In 1981, she moved to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, where she began as the director of publicity. She also became a vice president of the house in 1987 and the associate publisher in 1991. In 1993, she joined the Pocket Books division of Simon & Schuster as a vice president and director of marketing. She was appointed director of Beacon Press by the board of trustees of the Unitarian Universalists Association in October of 1995.

Atwan received her B.A. from the University of South Carolina summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. She went on to receive her M.A. in English Literature at the University of Virginia.


As Director of Beacon Press, Atwan has overseen the acquisition and editing of many books, including the following:

  • Reimagining Equality (2011) by Anita Hill, an American attorney and academic, and the professor of social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University.

  • Holy Hullabaloos (2009) and The Odd Clauses (2011) by Jay Wexler, a professor of law at Boston University.

  • Resurrecting Empire (2005), The Iron Cage (2007), Sowing Crisis (2009), and Brokers of Deceit (2013) by Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian American historian of the Middle East, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University.

  • Black Prophetic Fire (2014) by Cornel West, a prominent public intellectual, activist, and professor of Philosophy at Harvard University.

Poetry & Literary Non-fiction:
  • Swan (2010), Evidence (2009), The Truro Bear and Other Adventures (2008), Red Bird (2008), Our World (2007), Thirst (2006), New and Selected Poems Volume Two (2005), Blue Iris (2004), Why I Wake Early (2004), Owls and Other Fantasies (2003), At Blackwater Pond (Audio) & Many Miles (Audio)—all by Mary Oliver, an American poet who has won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

  • Morning Haiku (2010) by Sonia Sanchez, an African-American poet of the Black Arts Movement. New and Collected Poems: 1975-2015 (2016) by Jay Parini, a poet, novelist, biographer, and critic. Winning books from the National Poetry Series, including Scriptorium (2016) by Melissa Range, a poet and professor at Lawrence University, and For Want of Water (2017) by Sasha Pimentel, a poet and professor in the bilingual MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso.

  • The Healing (1998) and two other books by Gayl Jones; National Book Award finalist.

  • Singular Intimacies (2003), Incidental Findings (2005), Medicine in Translation (2010), What Doctors Feel (2013) and What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear—all by Danielle Ofri, an essayist, editor, and practicing internist at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

  • Fugitive Days (2001) and Public Enemy (2013) by Bill Ayers, a former leader in the movement that opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and professor of education (retired) at University of Illinois, Chicago.

  • Without a Map (2007) by Meredith Hall, a writer and professor at University of New Hampshire.

  • The $60,000 Dog (2012) and Playing House (2013) by Lauren Slater, an American psychologist and writer who specializes in psychology, mental illness, and women’s health.

Journalism & Public Affairs:
  • Free for All (2002) by Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and social critic.

  • From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act (2007) and Drunks (2017) by Christopher M. Finan, the president of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.

  • Choosing Naia (2003) by Mitchell Zuckoff, a professor of journalism at Boston University.

  • In Defense of Women (2011) by Judge Nancy Gertner, a former United States federal judge.

Public Health:
  • White Coat, Black Hat (2010) by Carl Elliott, a professor in the Center for bioethics and the Departments of Pediatrics and Philosophy at the University of Minnesota and contributor to The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly.

  • Overdiagnosed (2011) and Less Medicine, More Health (2015) by H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of Medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

  • Fragile Beginnings (2012) by Adam Wolfberg, an obstetrician specializing in high-risk pregnancies with Boston Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Boston.

  • The Cure for Everything (2012) and Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? (2015) by Timothy Caulfield, a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health as well as research director of the Health Law and Science Policy Group at the University of Alberta.

Series Launched at Beacon Press

Bluestreak: a series of creative writing by women of color.

Race, Education and Democracy: a book and lecture series. Launched in the spring of 2006, the series brings to Boston prominent public figures each year to deliver a series of lectures that will become the basis of a new trade book published by Beacon.

Re-Visioning American History: a series that reinterprets America’s past from diverse perspectives.

Queer Ideas/Queer Action:
a series of books that addresses intellectual questions facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movement today and serve as hands-on guides for living in an increasingly complicated political and social world.

The King Legacy: a partnership between Beacon Press and the Estate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Public Service

From 1983 to 1993, Helene served on the board of directors of the Publishers’ Publicity Association (PPA), serving as the president during her last three years. There she founded the NYU Publishing Institute/PPA scholarship fund, was chair of the 1989 AmFAR/PPA Benefit, was co-chair of the 1990 Goddard Riverside Project for the Homeless/PPA Benefit, and was co-chair of The Union Settlement Association/PPA Benefit of 1991.

From 1998 to 2002, she was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Coalition Against Censorship.

From 1999 to 2009, she served on PEN New England’s Executive Board. She was the Chair of the Executive Board in 2003.

Currently, she is the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award Administrator, a position she has served since 2003. She joined the Boston Book Festival’s Advisory Committee in 2010. She also served on the AWP/Boston Advisory Committee of 2012.

She has served on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Leadership Council since 1996.

Lectures and Speaking Events

Atwan participates in the publishing world by giving lectures, moderating and participating in panel discussions at Universities, special events and writers’ conferences.

From 1997-1999, Atwan lectured annually on non-profit publishing at the Radcliffe Publishing Course, which relocated to Columbia University and is now known as the Columbia Publishing Course. In 2003, Atwan lectured for the Florida Center for the Literary Arts and the Miami Book Fair International about the trends in publishing and bookselling, and how this affects non-fiction authors. In 2007, she was a panelist for the BookExpo America and Miami Book Fair International’s “The Translation Market,” where she discussed “The State of Translation—Boycotts, Bestsellers, and Banned Books.” She has also presented panels with the late historian Howard Zinn and with other authors in Miami, in Columbia, S.C., and elsewhere.

Atwan has organized and introduced various events for PEN New England and the Boston Book Festival. In 2010, she moderated a discussion featuring Justin Cronin, Jennifer Haigh, and Joshua Ferris named “First Time’s a Charm: Life After a Successful Debut Novel.” During the 2011 L.L. Winship/PEN New England Awards, Atwan introduced the keynote speaker Marilynne Robinson. For PEN New England and the John F. Kennedy Library & Museum, Atwan also moderated “A Conversation with Past Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award Winners,” featuring Joshua Ferris, Ha Jin, and Marilynne Robinson.

Atwan has also been a participant in many writers conferences, including those put on by New England Writers’ Workshop; The Boston University Narrative Train; The Neiman Foundation at Harvard University; the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshops; The Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine; GrubStreet writer’s festival the Muse and the Marketplace; Words & Music, a Literary Feast in New Orleans in 2010, 2011, and 2012; the Tucson Festival of Books, and The Miami Book Fair, where she has held public conversations with Bill Ayers and Cornel West.