October 24, 2008
They don’t call him the Jackal for nothing
by Dennis Johnson
It’s a story dominating European literary circles, but has yet to reach theses shores: Is superagent Andrew Wylie the anti-Christ of the book business? Open Letter Press publisher Chad Post — the Zelig of the book business (isn’t that him in that candid photo standing alongside mystery Nobel-winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio? At the backstage party talking to Salman Rushdie? Escorting Angela Merkel into the Frankfurt Book Fair?) — reports that he may well be. Writers in Europe rarely have agents, preferring to work directly with their publishers. But first Wylie somehow got hold of the Primo Levi estate in Italy, thwarting the legendary publisher Andre Schiffrin, who had been Levi’s champion, from further publication. Then Wylie got several leading French writers to sign up with him. And now, says Post in a detailed report on his Three Percent blog, Wiley is about to snare the estate of Robert Bolano — meaning small publishers, such as New Directions Press, who championed Bolano and revived his career, will now most likely no longer be able to afford to publish him.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.