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SFCM Trustee Stephen Rubin’s New Book is a Backstage Pass to the Worlds of Music, Publishing

"Words and Music" shares the stories and secrets of Rubin’s celebrated career.

January 24, 2023 by Mark Taylor

Founder and benefactor of the Stephen and Cynthia Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, SFCM Trustee, and legendary book publisher Stephen Rubin’s memoir was released today by Applause Books.

Words and Music: Confessions of an Optimist chronicles Rubin’s work as a culture-beat reporter and his four decades leading the book business. In the memoir, he explores the topics of publishing, music, entertainment, and philanthropy, including his efforts advancing the mission of the Conservatory.

“In regard to the book as a whole, what stands out for me is the arc of Steve’s genius, his capacity to win trust, and his preternatural instinct for a great story,” said SFCM President David Stull, who provided remarks at a celebration launching the book. “Ten percent of his work is a career for the rest of us. Words and Music is a joy to read, but it’s also a wonderful portrait of its author.”


Early in his career, Rubin parlayed his music column at New York University’s college paper into a freelance writing job for the New York Times. Rubin covered pop, classical music, and Hollywood. He wrote numerous profiles of prominent musicians, including icons Pierre Boulez, Arthur Fiedler, James Levine, Birgit Nilsson, Luciano Pavarotti, Leontyne Price, Dimitri Shostakovich, Beverly Sills, George Solti, and SFCM alumnus Isaac Stern. In 1974, he authored The New Met in Profile, an account of the Metropolitan Opera following the departure of Rudolf Bing, who served as its general manager for more than two decades.

Rubin went on to join Bantam Books and rose through the industry ranks, ultimately serving at the helm of Doubleday and Henry Holt, among other roles. During his tenure, he witnessed–and led—dramatic change in the business while publishing such bestselling authors as Mitch Albom, Margaret Atwood, Dan Brown, Bill Bryson, John Grisham, and Ian McEwan.

When Rubin was president and publisher of Henry Holt, the company’s bestsellers included Elton John’s autobiography, Me, the memoir of Edward Snowden, Michael Wolff’s runaway hit Fire and Fury, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing series, the novels of two-time Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer-winning The Sixth Extinction, the diaries of Andy Cohen, and The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown.

“Between his passion for opera and publishing, Steve has met many of the luminaries in both fields, and quite a few reprobates as well. He brings all to life in this lively, hilarious, thoughtful, and often touching memoir,” New York Times-bestselling author Louise Penny wrote of the book. “He is wonderful company, as you will soon discover.”

Learn more about the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism.