I met Colson Whitehead thirteen years ago, around the time Doubleday published his second novel, John Henry Days. We had lunch, and I interviewed him for a profile that would appear in this magazine. Two years later I asked him if he’d be willing to interview a poet who had a big book coming out; he agreed and later turned in “A Short Distance to the Blues: A Conversation With Kevin Young,” which we published in 2003. Since then I’ve seen the man only a handful of times—always a smile on his face—and I’ve devoured his five subsequent books, but certainly I feel as if I know him much better than I actually do. Good people, I’ve come to learn, have a knack for making you feel that way.
I hadn’t met Whitehead’s agent, Nicole Aragi, until I arrived at the photo shoot that produced the image on this issue’s cover. Prior to that we knew each other only through e-mail—trading what I imagine is rather typical, albeit infrequent, correspondence between agent and magazine editor—but my impressions of her were similar to those expressed by one of her clients, Bich Minh Nguyen, in this issue’s special section on literary agents (page 53). Before meeting Aragi, the novelist tells contributing editor Kevin Nance, “I had no expectations or hope of any kind—I mean, Edwidge Danticat and Junot Díaz are among her writers—but I figured, why not try?” I admit to having felt a little intimidated myself, but it didn’t take long for me to see what Nguyen realized: “I knew Nicole Aragi was a wonder-agent, but I soon learned that she also thinks of her writers as part of her extended family.”
The rapport between Aragi and Whitehead, captured in the cover photo, encapsulates much of the spirit and thinking expressed in our special section, where you’ll find the inside story behind no fewer than fifteen pairs of agents and authors. An agent should “feel like a real support, an ally, and a foundation,” advises Porochista Khakpour, who is represented by Seth Fishman. Roxana Robinson, whose agent is Lynn Nesbit, goes a step further: “My advice to writers is to join a cohort of some kind, and get yourself into the literary community. Send out your work, get it published in the best places you can. Go to graduate school, take writing workshops, go to writers conferences. You need some sort of support, if not from a person, from an institution—a school, or a publication.” My sincere hope is that you’ll find some of that support in this magazine. Here’s to a happy and productive summer.