Celebrated Literary Agent Dead After 7 Decades in Book Biz

Among his many achievements, Lord brought Jack Kerouac and other Beats to bookstores
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 5, 2022 12:00 AM CDT
Sterling Lord, Literary Agent to the Beats, Dead at 102
In this Jan. 8 2013 file photo, literary agent Sterling Lord speaks during an interview in his New York office. The literary agent worked for years to find a publisher for Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and later helped make the Berenstain Bears famous. Lord died Sept. 3 at age 102.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, file)

Sterling Lord, the uniquely enduring literary agent who worked for years to find a publisher for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and over the following decades arranged deals for everyone from true crime writer Joe McGinniss to the creators of the Berenstain Bears, has died. He had just turned 102, per the AP. Lord started his own agency in 1952 and later merged with rival Literistic to form Sterling Lord Literistic Inc. He stayed with the company he founded until he was nearly 100—and then decided to launch a new one. Lord was well-spoken and athletic, an able negotiator who dressed in tweed and avoided most vices. But he was alert to new trends and an early ambassador for a revolutionary cultural movement: the Beats.

He endured the initial unwillingness of publishers to take on Kerouac’s unorthodox narrative and was later the longtime agent for poet and playwright Amiri Baraka and novelist Ken Kesey. His full roster of clients produced works about sports, politics, murder, and anthropomorphic bears. Thanks to his friendship with Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, Lord helped launch Stan and Jan Berenstain's multimillion-selling books. He also worked often with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis during her time as an editor with Doubleday and Viking. “A number of things about this business have really caught me and made it a compelling interest,” Lord told the AP in 2013. “First, I’m interested in good writing. Second, I am interested in new and good ideas. And third, I’ve been able to meet some extraordinarily interesting people.”

Lord also spoke proudly of a project he declined: Lyndon Johnson’s memoir. Representatives for the former president informed Lord in the late 1960s that Johnson wanted $1 million for the book and that Lord should accept less than his usual commission for the honor of working with him. Lord turned them down, much to their surprise and anger. Johnson’s The Vantage Point, published in 1971, was dismissed by critics as bland and uninformative. Lord instead found a deal for Quotations from Chairman LBJ, a bestselling parody. Lord was married four times, and had one child, Rebecca, who said he died at a nursing home in Ocala, Florida. "He had a good death and died peacefully of old age," she said. (More literature stories.)

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