In Memoriam: Ginger Barber

Image courtesy of the Barber family

On February 19, 2016, the Duke University Libraries lost a long-time friend. Virginia Price Barber G’60 ‘69, known to all as Ginger, had been a member of our Library Advisory Board since 1994.

Born May 18, 1935, in Atlanta, Georgia, she spent her childhood there and in Galax, Virginia, where she graduated valedictorian of the Galax High School class of 1953. She was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College and went on to attain a master’s and Ph.D. in American literature from Duke. Her dissertation was on the poetics of William Carlos Williams.

At Duke, Ginger met Edwin Ford Barber, who was pursuing graduate studies in literature and history. They married and moved to New York City, where they would live for forty years and raise two daughters, Anna and Genevieve.

In New York, Ginger became a part-time professor at Hunter and then at Columbia University Teachers’ College, but she found her true calling when a friend invited her to join a literary agency. In 1974 she founded the Virginia Barber Literary Agency and built a career over the next three decades as a highly regarded literary agent, concentrating on fiction writers. The short list of authors with whom she worked is a veritable Who’s Who of the most critically celebrated and commercially successful writers in recent years. It includes Anne Rivers Siddons, Peter Mayle, Rosellen Brown, Paul Ehrlich, Andrew Delbanco, Elinor Lipman, Lauren Acampora, Sue Monk Kidd, Anita Shreve, and Nobel Laureate Alice Munro. A highlight of her career was traveling to Stockholm for Nobel week, and witnessing the ceremony honoring her long-time friend and client, Alice Munro, and other recipients of the 2013 award.

In a 1994 interview with Duke Magazine, Ginger said that it was the creative contact with authors, more so than negotiating on their behalf, that made her job so satisfying. “I love making comments, working directly with the authors on manuscripts,” she said. “It comes out of my teaching. I’m still, in a way, a teacher involved with literature.”

In 2000, Ginger sold her agency to William Morris, and she and her employees joined that company, where she worked for three years before retiring. For several years thereafter, she worked as an editor-at-large for Grove/Atlantic Publishers, living primarily in Charlottesville, Virginia, but still travelling frequently to New York.

A founding member of New York’s Women’s Media Group, Ginger served on the board of New York’s Literacy Partners for many years. She supported numerous causes, organizations, and people throughout the years, including the Duke University Libraries. As one of our longest-serving board members, she witnessed Duke’s library system grow and transform over a period of two decades.

“We will always remember Ginger for her intelligence, her wit, her charm, her amazing accomplishments as an agent and editor, and her deep appreciation for and love of the libraries here at Duke,” said Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs.

Harsha Murthy, Library Advisory Board chair emeritus who served with Ginger for fifteen years, remarked, “Ginger Barber embodied in so many ways the great spirit of the Duke Libraries and the Library Advisory Board—an abiding love of learning and books; a boundless generosity of spirit to teach and help; a fierce commitment to making sure that the right thing was done at the right time to preserve the gifts of the past for present and future generations; and a fun-loving embrace of people. Up until her very last days battling cancer, she was keenly interested in the Libraries’ events, meetings, and progress. We are grateful for the support she and her beloved husband Ed showed the Libraries and will deeply miss her spirit and friendship.”

Ginger died peacefully at home at the age of eighty. She is survived by her husband of fifty-two years, Edwin; her two daughters, Anna Barber Luhnow, and Genevieve Barber; her two grandsons, Edwin and August Luhnow; and her brother, Stuart Price. Needless to say, she also leaves behind many friends at Duke and around the country.