Alan J. Hruska, a Founder of Soho Press, Dies at 88

Alan J. Hruska, a corporate litigator who had a second, wide-ranging career as a founder of the independent publishing house Soho Press, which invests in serious fiction by unsung authors; as a novelist; and as a writer, director and producer of plays and films, he died on March 29 at his home in Manhattan. He was 88.

The cause was lymphoma, his daughter, Bronwen Hruska, the publisher of Soho Press, said.

Even before Mr. Hruska retired from his day job at Cravath Swaine & Moore in New York in 2001 after four decades there, he published his first novel, in 1985. The next year, with his wife, Laura Chapman Hruska, and Juris Jurjevics, a former editor in chief of Dial Press, he founded Soho Press.

Soho Press made its reputation by welcoming unsolicited manuscripts from little-known writers. Its ambitions, Mr. Jurjevics said, were “not to have a certain percentage of growth a year and not to be bought by anybody.”

Soho Press, based in Manhattan, has specialized in literary fiction and memoirs with a backlist that includes books by Jake Arnott, Edwidge Danticat, John L’Heureux, Delores Phillips, Sue Townsend and Jacqueline Winspear. The company also has a Soho Teen young adult imprint and a Soho Crime imprint that publishes mysteries in exotic locales by, among others, Cara Black, Colin Cotterill, Peter Lovesey and Stuart Neville.

Mr. Hruska (pronounced RUH-ska) often said that there was less of a vocational disconnect between lawyering and literature than met the eye. Both, done successfully, he said, are about storytelling, whether arguing a case in a legal brief or writing a novel, script or screenplay.

“I was a trial lawyer, and, while I would expect my actors to remember their lines better than my witnesses did, there is less disparity between the two professions than might be thought,” he said in an interview with a blogger in 2017.

“A trial and a play are both productions,” he added. “Putting each together involves telling a story. So does writing a brief or making an oral argument to a panel of judges. If you don’t tell a story, you will very likely put them to sleep.”

Alan Jay Hruska was born on July 9, 1933, in the Bronx and was raised in Far Rockaway, Queens. His father, Harry Hruska, was in the textile business. His mother, Julia (Schwarz) Hruska, was a homemaker.

While he was undecided on a profession, Alan had a penchant for filmmaking that took hold when he was 8. As a youth, he would ride the subway into Manhattan to attend double features at first-run movie theaters.

After graduating from Lawrence High School on Long Island, he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Yale in 1955 and was persuaded to apply to Yale Law School by a college professor who was impressed by his skills in logic and rationalization. He, in turn, found the law to be an ideal vehicle for his writing and reasoning about it.

He graduated from the law school in 1958, the same year he married Laura Mae Chapman, one of three women in their law school class.

She died in 2010. In addition to their daughter, he is survived by two sons, Andrew and Matthew; his wife, Julie Iovine, a former reporter for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, whom he married in 2013; and six grandchildren.

Mr. Hruska borrowed from his litigation experiences in major cases in writing a number of his novels, including “Wrong Man Running” (2011); “Pardon the Ravens” (2015); “It Happened at Two in the Morning” (2017), which The Wall Street Journal said showed the author “at his thriller-writing best”; and “The Inglorious Arts” (2019).

He also wrote and directed the film “Nola,” a romantic comedy starring Emmy Rossum which opened at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2003.

Other films of his include “The Warrior Class,” a comedy about a rookie lawyer that premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2005; and “The Man on Her Mind,” an existential comedy based on his play of the same name, which premiered at the Charing Cross Theater in London in 2012.

He made his theatrical debut directing an Off Broadway revival of “Waiting for Godot” in 2005. Ten years later, when a surreal play of his about love, marriage and an impending hurricane opened, the critic Alexis Soloski wrote in The Times in 2015, “If an existentialist philosopher ever attempted a light romantic comedy, it might sound a little like ‘Laugh It Up, Stare It Down,’ Alan Hruska’s quaintly absurdist play at the Cherry Lane Theater.”

Mr. Hruska oversaw a wide range of civil litigation at Cravath in the 44 years before he retired in 2001. He was named senior counsel in 2002. He also served as secretary of the New York City Bar Association.

Asked by The American Lawyer in 2015 whether he ever felt that the law was not his true calling, he replied: “Not at all. I had a great experience. I did about 400 cases, won 200 and settled 200. I’m particularly proud of the settlements because they can put people in a much better position than winning a case.”

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