Sterling Lord, a literary agent who worked for years among other victories to find a publisher for Jack Kerouac On the road, Die. He had just turned 102 years old.
Lord died Saturday in a nursing home in Ocala, Florida, according to his daughter, Rebecca Lord.
“He died peacefully and died peacefully of old age,” she said.
Sterling Lord, who started his own agency in 1952 and later merged with a competitor to form The Literary Lord of Sterling Lord, was a failed magazine publisher who became, arguably, the book’s longest-serving agent. He stayed with the company he founded until he was about 100 years old – and then decided to launch a new one.
He was an early ambassador for the revolutionary cultural movement: the Beats. He endured the publishers’ unwillingness to start taking over Kerouac’s unconventional work, and later became an agent for poet and playwright Amiri Baraka, novelist Ken Kesey, and poet and owner of City Lights bookshop Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Thanks to his friendship with Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, Lord helped launch Stan and Jan Berenstein’s books which have sold millions of Berenstain Bears books. He found a publisher for the Wiseguy story by Nicholas Pileggi and helped arrange the deal for her popular movie Goodfellas.
In the early 1960s, a Viking asked Lord to get a blurb from Kerouac for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey’s first and most popular novel. Kerouac refused but Lord ended up representing Casey.
He represented former US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and John Sirica, a Watergate judge of fame, and worked with Jackie Kennedy during her tenure as editor at Doubleday and Viking. Some of the great American sports books of the twentieth century, from North Dallas Forty to Secretarial, were written by agents of Lord.
Lord told The Associated Press in 2013, “A lot of things about this work have caught me and made it a compelling interest. First, I’m interested in good writing. Second, I’m interested in new, good ideas. And third, I’ve been able to meet some incredibly interesting people. Normal “.
Lord Lyndon Johnson’s memoirs were rejected. Representatives of the former president told the Lord that Johnson wanted $1 million and that Lord had to accept less than his usual commission. The Lord rejected them. The Vantage Point, which was eventually published in 1971, was rejected by critics. Lord found a bargain for quotes from the head of LBJ, a bestselling parody.
Lord has been married four times and has one child. Books and tennis were a lifelong passion for Lord, who was born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1920. He edited his high school newspaper and worked as a sports mover for the Des Moines Register. He became a tennis star at Grinnell College.
After serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Lord co-owned Germany-based Weekend magazine, which was soon folded. Returning to the United States, he was an editor at True and Cosmopolitan, from which he was expelled, before founding his literary agency. Lord believed that most clients failed to understand that the audience was becoming more urban and complex. He also prided himself on sympathizing with writers who lived more violently than he did.
Lorde achieved rapid success by selling film rights to two popular sports books, Rocky Graziano’s Somebody Up There Like Me and Jimmy Piersall’s Fear Strikes Out. But his pursuit on the road will prove even more rugged.
In his 2013 memoir, Lord Publishing, Lord remembered meeting Kerouac in 1952. Kerouac had finished a traditional novel, Town and Town, but had no agent and definitely needed one. On the road it was written “on a 120-foot roll of architectural tracing paper”.
Lord believes Kerouac has a “new and distinct voice that should be heard”. But even younger editors rejected it. One editor wrote: “Kerouac has a tremendous talent of a very special kind. But this is not a well-made novel, and it cannot be sold, not even good, I think.”
By 1955, Kerouac was ready to surrender. It was not the Lord. The agent eventually sold snippets from Paris Review and New World Writing. An editor from Viking Press called Lord, and he offered $900. The lord held out for $1000. In 1957, the book was released, and New York The times cheered and soon On the Road entered the canon.
Lord wrote that Kerouac was a shy and fragile man. Fame compounded by a drinking problem that killed him by 1969. Lord tried to persuade Kerouac to clean up but eventually backed down because he was his “literary agent, not his life agent”. Lord attended Kerouac’s funeral, standing by the grave with Allen Ginsberg.
Lord oversaw the posthumous releases even as he fought the Kerouac family for control of the estate. After years of failed attempts, On the Road was released in 2012. But Lorde didn’t have a big role. He did not attend a show or private party.
“I decided to go home,” he said.