Kelley's 'long lost classic' scooped by Quercus after seven-way auction

Kelley's 'long lost classic' scooped by Quercus after seven-way auction

Quercus has decreed this Friday (24th August) A Different Drummer day and have given all staff the day off to read William Melvin Kelley's “important and impactful” novel recently acquired by the publisher in a seven-way auction.

The late African American writer’s “long lost classic” was first published in 1962 but was given a new lease of life when journalist and author Kathryn Schulz found a copy on a second-hand bookshelf and became inspired to write the New Yorker article “The Lost Giant of American Literature”. The rediscovery of the author led to a seven-way auction for rights to the title in the UK and, according to Quercus, deals are now being struck all over the world.

Quercus imprint riverrun will include Schulz's article as a foreword to its edition, with plans to publish the book as an £8.99 paperback, and in e-book and audio, on 1st November 2018 - the 81st anniversary of William Melvin Kelley’s birth.

Kelley, credited in 2014 for coining the political term “woke” by the Oxford English Dictionary, was an experimental novelist known for his satirical explorations of race relations in America. When his first novel A Different Drummer published he was just 24 years old. He died in February of 2017, aged 79.

A Different Drummer, which is published by Anchor, Knopf Doubleday in North America, is set in 1957 in a fictional southern US state between Mississippi and Alabama - when, one afternoon, a young black farmer by the name of Tucker Caliban throws salt on his field, shoots his horse and livestock, sets fire to his house and departs the state; and thereafter the entire African-American population leaves with him.

Commissioning editor Richard Arcus, who bought UK and Commonwealth rights in the novel, predicted A Different Drummer to be the next big rediscovered classic.

“Yes, it is prescient, potent and so politically relevant. But above all else it is simply an incredible feat of literary writing; one that inspires confidence,” he said. “We will be shouting about this novel from every single rooftop, but it’s also just a case of getting it into people’s hands and letting it speak for itself.”

Arcus did the deal through Siobhan O’Neill at WME, on behalf of Tracy Fisher and the William Melvin Kelley Estate, while also acquiring two further titles from William Melvin Kelley’s Estate.

As part of the UK campaign, Quercus marketing director Bethan Ferguson said she would be sending "double the quantity" of advanced reading proofs as usual, encouraging recipients to read one and pass one on, and to share their views and excitement on Twitter using the hashtag #bangthedrum.