The 75-year-old American literary agent Andrew Wylie is so fearsome he’s known as “the Jackal”, says Harry Lambert in The New Statesman. And when I interview him at his office in a Manhattan skyscraper, he doesn’t hold back. America, he declares, is the “land of the completely stupid”; the bestseller list “was composed of trash when I started in 1980, and it’s composed of drivel now”; the idea that the publishing industry has made peace with Amazon is like saying “the Uyghurs are getting along well with the Chinese”. He can speak bluntly, he says, because “there are 1,500 writers behind me. So I can do anything I want.”
Wylie, who comes from a moneyed east coast family, dabbled in journalism and poetry before setting up his eponymous agency aged 33. His skilfulness in poaching star authors from rivals has helped him build a formidable roster of talent, from Sally Rooney to Martin Amis to Bob Dylan. One client, Salman Rushdie, is an author of “Mozartean fluidity”, he says; Philip Roth, by contrast, would call him up in the middle of a project and complain: “This is the worst shit I’ve ever come across, I can’t do this job.” Wylie’s lack of scruples has won him few friends. In 1988, one magazine editor wondered in Vanity Fair why he hadn’t yet been “run out of town”. But thanks to his relentless focus on literary quality, and the deep loyalty he inspires in clients, he “remains in town” 35 years later.