Elisabeth Sifton was born Elisabeth Niebuhr in New York City in 1939; a magna cum laude graduate of Radcliffe College, she also studied at the University of Paris. She began her career in book publishing at Frederick Praeger in in 1962, a partly academic partly general-interest publisher with a considerable art-book list and a reputation [later established as fact] as being somehow supported by the Central Intelligence Agency. When Praeger was sold to Encyclopedia Britannica, she left it and in 1968 became an editor at The Viking Press; she was named its editor in chief in 1980. In 1983, by which time Viking had been sold to Pearson, the British company that owned Penguin Books, she was named publisher of Elisabeth Sifton Books and vice president of Viking Penguin; her imprint won the Carey-Thomas Award for Creative Publishing in 1986. In 1987-92, she was executive vice president of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., then joined Farrar Straus and Giroux as its senior vice president; she was also Publisher, then Editor-at-Large, of its subsidiary Hill and Wang. In 2008 she retired from active editorial work.
In 1962 Ms Niebuhr married Charles Proctor Sifton, a lawyer and later a federal judge; they had three sons--Sam, Tobias, and John Sifton. They separated in 1984, and in 1996 Mrs. Sifton married the historian Fritz Stern.
A former member of the Freedom to Read Committee of the Association of American Publishers and the advisory council to Princeton’s Department of Comparative Literature, Mrs. Sifton also served on the board of directors of Union Theological Seminary, of the French-American Foundation, and of the Harvard University Press, as well as on the board of advisers to the Beacon Press and the visiting committees to Harvard's Department of English and American History and to its University Press.
Poets, novelists and critics whom Elisabeth Sifton edited and published include John Ashbery, Bruce Chatwin, Robertson Davies, Don DeLillo, Stuart Dybek, Leslie Forbes, Carlos Fuentes, William Gaddis, Allan Gurganus, Richard Howard, Frank Kermode, Peter Matthiessen, J.D. McClatchy, Péter Nádas, R.K. Narayan, Richard Poirier, Gregor von Rezzori, Charles Rosen, William Trevor, Marina Warner, and Geoffrey Wolff.
Other writers whose books Elisabeth Sifton edited and published include Neal Ascherson, Isaiah Berlin, John Brewer, Frederick Brown, Natalie Zemon Davis, Vladimir Dedijer, Andrew Delbanco, Ann Douglas, Ronald Dworkin, Susan Eisenhower, David Gilmour, Philip Gourevitch, Gerald Gunther, James Hershberg, Stanley Hoffmann, Michael Howard, Michael Ignatieff, Roy Jenkins, Stanley Karnow, John Keegan, Sunil Khilnani, Stephen Kinzer, Nicholas Lemann, J.R. MacArthur, Robert MacNeil, Avishai Margalit, Ernest May, Edward Mendelson, Newton Minow, Dan Morgan, Victor Navasky, Michael Novacek, Lynne Olson, Fintan O’Toole, Sydney Schanberg, Jonathan Spence, Thomas Slaughter, Stella Tillyard, Lewis Thomas, Adam Ulam, Henry Wiencek, and Jules Witcover.
Mrs. Sifton is also the author of a book,
The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Peace and War
, and numerous articles in
and other periodicals. She and Fritz Stern together wrote
No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State