Albert Russel Erskine Jr., a retired Random House editor who worked with James A. Michener, William Faulkner, John O'Hara, and Robert Penn Warren, died on Wednesday at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Conn. He was 81, and lived in Westport, Conn.
His family said he had had a long illness.In his long publishing career, Erskine worked as a top executive at Random House under the company's founder, Bennett Cerf.
Among the dozens of books Erskine edited were numerous best sellers by many of the nation's most acclaimed writers. His reputation grew for his broad literary advice in developing a book as well as for his careful word-by-word editing.
"His authors trusted him absolutely," said Jason Epstein, the vice president and editorial director of Random House. "Faulkner was devoted to him. They thought of Albert as their ally. He was one of the great editors of his time."
Eudora Welty said of Erskine: "He did a very great deal for my work. I remember on my novel `Losing Battles,' he had me out to his house as a guest, eating wonderful food and having a lovely time, and every day we went to his desk and went over this long manuscript, line by line."
He was instrumental in editing and publishing Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" in 1952. He also nurtured Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano" and was quick to identify and promote Cormac McCarthy's first novel, "The Orchard Keeper," as a talented work.
A native of Memphis, Erskine graduated from Southwestern College (now Rhodes College) in Memphis in 1932 and earned a master's degree at Vanderbilt in 1939.