Tributes have been paid from across the trade to literary agent Deborah Rogers, who died suddenly on Wednesday (30th April).
News of her passing has shocked many, with her loss described as “devastating”.
Among those paying tribute were Dan Franklin, publisher for Vintage, and Stephen Page, chief executive of Faber, who between them publish many major authors represented by Rogers, including Ian McEwan, A S Byatt, Peter Carey, Kazuo Ishiguro and Hanif Kureishi.
Franklin said: “Deborah was not just a great literary agent, with impeccable taste and judgment, but one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. In one of the many tearful conversations about her in the office I heard how a very junior editor had emailed her to make a lunch appointment for his boss. She at once said he must come over to the RCW office and meet everyone and I remembered how she did the same with me, many years ago. Truly, with Deborah’s death something vital has gone out of British publishing.”
Page described Rogers as an “extraordinary person” and said it was a “total privilege to have known and worked with her”.
“She was infectiously passionate about writing and her writers, acting always with such intense care, taste, humility and integrity,” he continued. “It's a mark of her extraordinary talents that she represented so many great writers throughout their careers. She was also special for their publishers with whom she worked so closely. Working with her demanded that you do your absolute best but in a way that was always so much fun and a shared pleasure.
“She played such a major part in Faber's story over many decades. Her loss is devastating, but her legacy will remain extraordinary in the unique agency she built with her colleagues at RCW, and her lasting place in the story of English literature. In many ways her greatest work was for readers, bringing forward and sustaining writers, writing and publishing that has brought so much to so many readers around the world.”
Agent Sam Edenborough, current presidents of the Association of Authors’ Agents (AAA), of which Rogers was a past president, said: “Deborah was everything I’d want an agent to be if I was an author: she was fierce and wise and funny and had superb taste. She thought and talked constantly about her clients and their work. I am proud to have been able to count her as a friend. She was greatly admired and respected by the AAA’s membership and the association is indebted to her as a prominent, longstanding member and former president who embodied agenting at its best.”
Jeremy Trevathan, publisher at Macmillan Adult Books, said: “Deborah Rogers was one of the legendary British literary agents of the 20th century and yet, to meet her for the first time, she was quite shy and reserved. She preferred to shun the limelight and to observe those around her, it seemed to me, with something of a twinkle in her eye. I saw her at a dinner recently, just before the London Book Fair, and she was rather embarrassed (though pleased as well) to have been singled out for a lifetime achievement award. She said she much preferred her authors to take any plaudits that were due. But in hindsight I’m so glad now that she was made aware of the respect and fondness in which everyone in publishing held her.
"Above all she was proud and delighted for her authors. Earlier this year she attended a launch event at the Romanian Embassy for her author, Paul Bailey, who she has represented for over 30 years. The event was a huge success and I like to think of her slightly tearful with joy at Paul’s happiness.
“In publishing terms she represented the best that an agent could be. She was incredibly generous. She was honourable. She didn’t really like conducting auctions and therefore disappointing eager publishers. She was incredibly diligent at the role she had to play, which was to be the mediator between the author and the publisher.”
Meanwhile Hannah Westland, publisher of Serpent’s Tail, said: “Deb gave me my first job in publishing and I owe my career to her. She wasn’t just a wonderful agent, and she didn’t just teach me everything I know about publishing – she was also an inspiring human being. I feel very lucky to have known her, and can’t believe I have to talk about her in the past tense. She was always curious. She was also clever and canny and funny and wise, and she brought out the best in all of us - those who worked with her, the writers she represented, and everyone she met.”
Publicist Jacqueline Graham said she had known Rogers throughout her own long publishing career, with the agent among the first names she encountered in the world of publishing. She went on: “But I only got to know her properly in the late ‘70s, when working at Picador, because not only did she then represent pretty much every author that mattered at that time, but she was also one of the very first agents to embrace the publicist as well as the editor. She took me out to lunch to talk about Ian McEwan, Bruce Chatwin, Michael Herr, Oliver Sacks - and so many others - about the best way forward for them and how we could work together to further their writing careers in the best way.
“She cared passionately about her authors, but she also cared passionately about her publishing colleagues and she was utterly principled about both. I will never forget her phoning me in total outrage after a 'regime change victim' at Picador was announced in the 1980s, virtually appealing for me to resign in sympathy. She had a huge heart and unswerving loyalty and she also had boundless generosity of spirit and hospitality. The parties she gave at her home in Notting Hill for her authors and friends were wonderful and genuine expressions of love and friendship. ’The end of an era' is a much overused phrase, but this truly is one.”
Authors McEwan and Ishiguro have also paid tribute to Rogers. McEwan said she “found her own highly individual route to being brilliant” rather than being the archetypal “hard-edged, calculating agent”. He said she extended “infinite care, kindness, hospitality, patience, fierce loyalty, very sound critical judgement and good taste” to her writers, and offered the publishers she dealt with “much the same”.
Kazuo Ishiguro commented: “I'm groping for consolations in the face of this loss, but one of them is that she departed absolutely at the top of her game, knowing no decline. In the last few months, she was sharper, wiser, more energetic than at any time in the 34 years I've known her.”
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