Trade remembers Bryan as 'one of the greats'

Trade remembers Bryan as 'one of the greats'

The book trade has continued to pay tribute to literary agent Felicity Bryan, who died on Sunday (21st June) at the age of 74, two weeks on from announcing she was stepping back from day-to-day involvement with the agency she founded.

Baroness Gail Rebuck, chair of Penguin Random House UK, described Bryan as one-of-a-kind and "one of the greats". Rebuck remembered the "legendary summer parties" Bryan would throw, tables laden with food she had cooked herself, as well as one of the most significant books they had worked on together, The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, which, benefitting from Bryan's championing, "ignited and became a global bestseller".

"Felicity was always an effervescent bundle of energy and enthusiasm which, coupled with her deep intelligence and strategic insight, made for a unique combination in a literary agent," said Rebuck. 

She continued: "When I wrote to congratulate Felicity recently on her well-deserved MBE she replied that she felt boosted by it. I did not know she had quietly been dealing with cancer for over a year and it was typical of her to continue to live life to the full, travelling, entertaining and working, of course, even submitting books till the end.

"Felicity enjoyed great success in her life and was blessed with a wonderful family. She knew great tragedy too but it never dulled her spirit. In her last email to me, dictated to her son, she said she had given up on treatment and wanted to die peacefully at home. She had led a fantastic life and she loved cherishing her authors—her only sadness was that she would not be around to see their books published. How we shall miss this unique woman. Felicity was one of the greats."

Isobel Dixon, m.d. and head of Books at the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency and president of the Association of Authors Agents, said: "It is no exaggeration to say that Felicity Bryan was extraordinary and—a word her close colleagues have often used in talking of her recently—‘magnificent’. I was in awe of her, in the best possible way."

"Felicity Bryan was one of the first agents I met outside of Blake Friedmann, when I attended my first AAA meeting with Carole Blake at the Groucho Club almost 25 years ago," she recalled. "Felicity, with her warmth and interest, immediately made me feel welcome in the industry, and from AAA meetings that followed I soon came to appreciate her keen intelligence and professionalism. Though I did not know her well personally, I have always admired her agenting, business acumen and shining good humour—and from what fellow AAA members have said, I know so many of us feel the same way. With her extraordinary resilience, energy and grace, even in the hardest of times, Felicity was a real beacon in our community. We are grateful for her example and contribution to the literary world. My deepest condolences to her family, friends and authors and her fine colleagues at FBA."

Alexandra Pringle, Bloomsbury's executive publisher, said she was a model for "how women could and should work together". "Felicity Bryan always reminded me of a hummingbird—iridescent, vivid, swift, diminutive," she said. "We loved her for all she brought to our world: her enthusiasms and her acuity, her sense and her tenacity, her lipstick and her hats, her joie de vivre and the pleasures she got from a good deal. She showed us how women could and should work together—and how, in the end, nothing matters more than our authors. She shall be very, very much missed."

One of Bryan's authors, Karen Armstrong, paid tribute to her as both "a brilliant and canny agent" and "an extraordinary human being" with an ability "to enjoy life and live it to the full".

Armstrong said it was "no exaggeration" to say Bryan had "made [her] life", and that she had told her so in her final days. "When I look around at my pretty house, at the books I have written on my shelves, and think of all the places I have visited and the people I have met there in so many parts of the world—that is all due to her," said Armstrong. She explained how she was one of the first authors Bryan had taken on when she started her own agency and described how she had "persevered even though the book I had in mind (called A History of God) aroused absolutely no interest with any publisher. But Felicity never gave up. And somehow her serene and breezy confidence gave me the courage, inspiration—and imperative—to work and write in quite a different way."

Agent Cathryn Summerhayes of Curtis Brown said Bryan was "an unbelievably positive champion" for both her authors and staff. "Felicity was one of the smartest, kindest and brilliant agents," said Summerhayes. "I hope in 30 years I can look back and say I achieved even a quarter of all that she did. She always had time for the most junior person in the room, told the best stories and was an unbelievably positive champion for both her incredible list of authors and anyone who was fortunate enough to work on her team. She was wonderful company and her wardrobe of technicolour jackets and sparkling smile ensured she lit up the room at even the dullest of literary parties. She will be hugely missed."

Zoë Pagnamenta, agent at the ​The Zoë Pagnamenta Agency in New York, recalled how Bryan loved the US and her visits to New York. She herself remembered Bryan as "a wonderful whoosh of energy" and hailed her "an inspiration to us all".

"We’d often meet for breakfast at the beginning of a day which would be packed with meetings," said Pagnamenta. "She loved meeting younger editors as much as more established editors she’d known a long-time. She’d always try to fit in a trip to the opera when she was in town and catch up with friends she’d known for years. She was just a wonderful whoosh of energy. I remember her eagerly meeting up near our new offices in Brooklyn one morning and then enthusiastically catching the ferry to lower Manhattan. She was in a jaunty beret and coat and beaming in anticipation of the boat trip as I left her at the ferry stop. Such spirit, such vim, passionate about good books and fiercely proud of her authors. Spending time with her was co-conspiratorial, galvanizing fun with lots of laughter. She was a dynamic force and an inspiration to us all, kind, loyal and thoughtful."

Catherine Clarke, of m.d. Felicity Bryan Associates, has said her legacy will live on in the agency she founded. "As we mourn the loss of Felicity from our lives, we also look forward, as she did, to all the great opportunities and connections that publishing is about," Clarke said. "Her agency is built on her instincts of putting authors first, on strong collegiality, on sound business practices, on having great fun. It is no contradiction to be based in the beautiful ancient city of Oxford, and to have a truly international outlook. It is one of the things that give FBA its unique character and puts it on a sound footing to flourish, as Felicity always anticipated with pleasure."