News for Authors

Penguin Classics: The Art of Redefining Classic Literature Design

by Elda Rotor|May, 2019

For more than seventy years, Penguin Classics has been a revered publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,800 titles, Penguin Classics celebrates the universality of storytelling from our past to connect generations of readers inclusively across time.

And we know that the first impression of a book often comes from its cover. Building on a rich history of book design, we provide dynamic, surprising, and beautiful covers that speak to the modern relevance of these classic works, and we commission some of the most exciting leading and emerging artists working today. Over the last ten years alone, books from Penguin Classics have been named to the New York Times Best Book Covers of the Year list and have received distinction in illustration and design competitions. Here are some examples, and, please, do judge our books by their covers!


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A 1923 masterpiece in American modernist literature and an influential Harlem Renaissance classic, Cane by Jean Toomer uses poetry, prose, and playlike dialogue to create a window into the varied lives of African Americans living in the rural South and the urban North under Jim Crow and systemic segregation. The specially commissioned cover is illustrated by emerging artist Xia Gordon.


The Women’s Suffrage Movement is an intersectional anthology of works by the known and unknown women who shaped the suffrage movement. In the office, we call this edition a “black tie Classic”: That is, for such a special event, a (book) jacket is required. This edition is packaged in a stunning limited-edition jacket with flap details and a keyhole cut-out revealing the black-spine cover illustration beneath by Hanna Barczyk.


We publish Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions especially with gift-giving in mind. All our deluxe editions feature deckled pages and French flaps, which extend the canvas on which our artists can design the covers. This is the third beautiful piece of cover art by Dadu Shin (Jane Austen’s Emma and Persuasion are the other beauties). Here is the latest, a watercolor for Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.


For the 150th anniversary of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, we felt strongly that the cover design should welcome all the readers who related to the March sisters, so we wanted to represent them in spirit with this cover by Carole Henaff. We loved the design so much that we created matching pins and bookmarks to celebrate this classic.


Our hardcover Penguin Classics are reserved for very special publications that both make lovely gifts and reflect the everlasting appeal of the words within.  We published Kahlil Gibran’s beloved work The Prophet for the first time in Penguin Classics, in a hardcover edition with a linen-wrapped cover, copper stamping, turquoise gilded edges, and colored endpapers. Perhaps the most famous work of spiritual fiction of the twentieth century, The Prophet is rooted in Gibran’s own experience as an immigrant and provides inspiration to anyone feeling adrift in a world in flux. Our Penguin art director Paul Buckley designed this edition, which also includes twelve of Gibran’s own visionary paintings.


One of our most exciting highlights from Penguin Classics is the complete repackage of all the individual plays in our Pelican Shakespeare Series by artist Manuja Waldia, who was a winner of the 2016 AIGA + Design Observer 50 books | 50 Covers competition and received a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators for the series. Her vector-inspired art gives a modern edge to the Bard’s works, and one fan, Marlon James (author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf), called the Pelican Shakespeare series “gorgeous new Shakespeare paperbacks.”


Penguin Classics is always thinking of exciting ways to package and publish these great works of literature from the past so that they speak to readers today and reflect exciting new visual expressions by designers and artists. Via the different interpretations in book design through time, authors can enjoy an ever-evolving conversation with their readers, reframing themes and elements of their work that are both universal and timely.



Elda Rotor is Vice President and Publisher, Penguin Classics for Penguin Random House.