Backing Off from the Book

updated 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/05/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

WHAT OPRAH WINFREY CAN DO FOR books is legendary in American publishing: Soon alter she featured The Bridges of Madison County on her show in May, 350,000 copies were shipped to bookstores nationwide. What the Winfrey factor might do for Oprah's own autobiography, scheduled for September publication by Knopf, was anybody's guess—and the guessing started on the other side of a million copies—until she did the one thing that nobody expected: Oprah postponed the project. The surprise move came just three weeks after Winfrey stole the show at the American Booksellers Association convention in Miami, where she was feted and fawned on as the big-ticket author of publishing's fall season.

According to Oprah's version of why the book has been put on hold, Miami was her undoing. "I stood before that convention and said, 'This is going to be a book that really empowers people,' " Winfrey told the Chicago San-Times. "I fell I needed to say more." Winfrey was lavish in her praise of collaborator Joan Barthel at each of her Miami appearances, and later said that the manuscript "does a really good job of chronicling the events of my life." But, she added, "I wanted to offer some insight, some clarity and some wisdom that might benefit other people." She also denied rumors that fiancé Stedman Graham had pressured her to withdraw the manuscript because it revealed too much of her sexual history. Yet the book brouhaha, combined with the fact that no wedding date has been set (Oprah has been engaged since last fall and recently contacted Oscar de la Renta about a gown powwow), has fanned speculation that something's amiss in Oprahland.

Not so, insists Winfrey, who hasn't announced a new publication date. It's simply that "I am in the heart of a learning curve." The people at Knopf, where the book is informally known as Noprah, remain sanguine about their reported copublishing deal. Says a staffer: "It's going to be a great book? whenever it comes out."

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