Literary Agents Become Owners of ICM

After more than a year of negotiations, a group of agents at International Creative Management (ICM) successfully reached an agreement to purchase a majority ownership of the company from the private-equity firm Rizvi Traverse Management LLC, and longtime ICM chief executive officer Jeffrey Berg. The Hollywood talent agency will now be known as ICM Partners and is controlled by a partnership of twenty-nine agents and executives from its film, television, publishing, and touring departments. The financial details of the agreement weren't revealed.

ICM was formed in 1975 through the merger of International Famous Agency and Creative Management Associates (which were themselves formed by earlier mergers). Rizvi Traverse Management paid ICM's founding owners seventy million dollars for a majority interest in the agency in 2005, which allowed ICM to purchase the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann literary agency in 2006. According to the Wall Street Journal, in recent years, there were grumblings among the agents that Rizvi, a Connecticut-based financial company, did not show significant interest in the agency.

In the publishing world, one of ICM's best-known agents is Amanda "Binky" Urban, who represents Charles Frazier, Mary Karr, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, and Donna Tartt.

Michelle Tea’s Queer Space with Homemade Cookies

Poet and writer Michelle Tea has been both a P&W–supported writer and presenter of literary events. Her many books include a poetry collection, novels, and memoirs. Tea's novel, Valencia, won the 2000 Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Fiction. Tea founded the literary nonprofit RADAR Productions and co-founded the spoken word tour Sister Spit. We asked her a few questions about her experience as a writer and reading series curator.

What are your reading dos?
Be relaxed! Audiences are as interested in YOU as they are in your piece. Ad-libbing through the work (if the work allows for it) is generally charming; some of my favorite readers will break off the page and address the audience in a spontaneous, natural way.

What are your reading don’ts?
Don't take it so seriously. You are not delivering a testimony to Congress. Don't speak in POETRY VOICE. You know what I mean. There are writers whose work I enjoy on the page, but I can't listen to them read it because that inflection makes me leave my body.

How do you prepare for a reading?
I don't, unless you count neurotically changing my mind about what I'm reading and wearing "preparation." I call it mental illness. Not everything works best aloud. I try to not feel the audience too much because it’s easy to mistake silence for boredom, and then I get nervous and start acting desperate. I try to read as if everything I'm delivering is AMAZING.

What’s the strangest interaction you’ve had with an audience member?
Sometimes a person thinks that just because you are comfortable reading something sexual in the very specific and controlled environment of a reading, it means you are down for discussing sex with random strangers. And I actually enjoy that no more than the average person, which is to say, not much.

What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why does it work?
They all seem to revolve around shock. In Rose of No Man's Land, it's when a character throws her dirty tampon at a boy who is harassing her. In Valencia, it’s an unusual sex scene. In Rent Girl, it’s a very funny fake orgasm contest between two prostitutes—which allows me to caw like a bird whilst performing, so I like it, too.

What makes the RADAR Reading Series unique?
My reading series has been running for almost nine years. I mix up my readers—unpublished, published, well-known, emerging, and I bring in graphic novelists, video artists, and photographers. It's free. There’s a Q&A  segment, and I hand out homemade cookies to whoever asks questions. (There are always questions!)

It's queer like a queer bar—anyone can go in, but you know it’s a space that has prioritized queer people. As a queer person I spend tons of time in straight spaces where queers are welcome, but the spaces are straight, even though often they aren't designated as such because straight people aren't accustomed to thinking about space like queers are. RADAR uses that model—yes, of course everyone is welcome, but the space, the event, is queer.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
My immediate community is a queer community that still suffers from a lack of representation in all media, especially literary, even in San Francisco. The value of having a place you can go to see elements of your experience and community reflected back at you in a thoughtful, honest, artistic manner is HUGE. I was just passing through San Francisco when I came here in 1993, but the reason I stayed is that the work I do—writing, curating events, and promoting other writers—is so supported here. And it's supported in part by Poets & Writers, so thank you!

Photo: Michelle Tea. Credit: Food For Thought Books.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

The Woven Essay

5.16.12

Choose a topic that interests you—it could be an animal, a scientific process, or a historical event, for example—and research it. Next, think of an unrelated experience from your life—a particularly memorable moment from childhood, perhaps, or when a loved one passed away—and write an essay on the two subjects. Alternate between short paragraphs of factual reportage on the topic and brief, more lyrical vignettes about the remembered experience, with the end goal of finding a way to relate the two. 

Go Wild

In Cheryl Strayed's new memoir, Wild (Knopf, 2012), the author recounts her months-long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, a journey that she took entirely alone after life as she'd known it had fallen apart. "It was a world I'd never been to and yet had known was there all along," she says, "one I'd staggered to in sorrow and confusion and fear and hope. A world I thought would both make me into the woman I knew I could become and turn me back into the girl I'd once been." Write about a time when you got a little wild—when you embarked upon something new and challenging, maybe something frightening, or maybe even a little dangerous. Write about the wilderness itself, but also about what brought you there, and who you had become by the time you walked back out of the woods.

New Business and High Concept Ideas

Deadline Hollywood reports that former ICM agent Nick Harris has partnered with financing specialist Jason Traub (also his brother-in-law) to form The Story Foundation, a company that aims to "create intellectual properties that start as books with ancillary life in film, TV and other multi-platform opportunities." Harris says he plans to offer authors a higher cut of any TV and movie deals based on their books, depending on how involved they were in generating the original idea. The company will focus on young adult and "high concept commercial ideas," as Harris put it. So...what exactly are "high concept commercial ideas"? We asked literary agent Julie Barer for a quick translation. Here's what she says: "I think a 'high concept' idea is one that is easily described in one or two sentences, appeals to a broad audience (meaning both male and female readers, young and old) and is both immediately recognizable and yet sounds original and fresh. It means the story has a 'hook' that will instantly draw people in, and will be easy to pitch to media, booksellers, and the general public. It usually means the focus is more about the plot and the narrative drive/tension than about the beauty of the line-by-line writing, but it doesn't have to be." 

On a related note, Barer's Twitter feed offers news about publishing and upcoming events, and is worth a follow. In fact, we've added the Twitter feeds of all those agents included in our Literary Agents database. Take a look! But remember: It's definitely not a good idea to query an agent via social media.

The Alter Ego

4.25.12

Research the origins (Latin, Greek, biblical, or otherwise) of your first name and develop an alter ego for yourself based upon those origins. If your name is Alex, for example, whose origin, Alexandros, originates from the Greek root "to defend," your alter ego could be "The Defender." Free-write for twenty minutes from the perspective of that alter ego, writing about anything that comes to mind—and see what kind of patterns, ideas, or thoughts emerge.

L.A. Times Names Finalists for Best Books of 2011

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times announced the shortlists for its 2011 Book Awards, given in ten categories including poetry, fiction, biography, and the graphic novel.

The finalists in poetry are Jim Harrison for Songs of Unreason (Copper Canyon Press), Dawn Lundy Martin for Discipline (Nightboat Books), Linda Norton for The Public Gardens (Pressed Wafer), and 2011 National Book Award finalists Carl Phillips for Double Shadow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Bruce Smith for Devotions (University of Chicago Press), which is also on the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award shortlist.

In fiction, Joseph O’Connor is shortlisted for Ghost Light (Frances Coady Books), Michael Ondaatje for The Cat’s Table (Knopf), and Alex Shakar for Luminarium (Soho Press), as well as National Book Award finalists Julie Otsuka, for The Buddha in the Attic (Knopf), and Edith Pearlman, for Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories (Lookout Books). Debut authors up for the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction are Chad Harbach for The Art of Fielding (Little, Brown), Eleanor Henderson for Ten Thousand Saints (Ecco), Ben Lerner for Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House Press), Ismet Prcic for Shards (Black Cat), and James Wallenstein for The Arriviste (Milkweed Editions).

Up for the graphic novel honor are Joseph Lambert for I Will Bite You! And Other Stories (Secret Acres), Dave McKean for Celluloid (Fantagraphics), Carla Speed McNeil for Finder: Voice (Dark Horse), Jim Woodring for Congress of the Animals (Fantagraphics), and Yuichi Yokoyama for Garden (PictureBox). The award, the first major literary award given for the graphic novel form, is now in its third year.

Representing creative nonfiction on the biography shortlist are Alexandra Styron's memoir Reading My Father: A Memoir (Scribner) and Mark Whitaker's My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir (Simon & Schuster). The late biographer Manning Marable, whose Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Viking) was a 2011 National Book Award finalist and is shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, is also nominated in the biography category.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on April 20, just prior to this year's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which comes to the University of Southern California on April 21 and 22. Alongside the winners, the Times will honor novelist Rudolfo Anaya, who debuted in 1972 with the novel Bless Me, Ultima (Quinto Sol Publications), with the Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement.

In the video below, Anaya reads from his novel Albuquerque (Warner Books, 1994) and discusses the importance of place to a writer.

Lifting Spirits: Jean Grau’s Work With Seniors

Jean Grau, author of the poetry collection Riverbend, is a storyteller in poetry and prose. A native of New Orleans, P&W has co-sponsored her readings at local nursing homes and public libraries since 2008. We asked her a few questions about her work with seniors.

Why have you chosen to work with seniors?
My parents respected life in all its stages. I do, too. Seniors are special to me because of their experience, strength, and courage.

What are your reading dos and don’ts?
Wear bright, happy clothes. Make sure those with hearing problems are in the front. Move. Enjoy the poetry, along with the audience. Never forget readings are command performances for very special people. I avoid depressing subjects, except for the adventurous group at The Shepherd Center, whose motto is: "Bring it on. We can handle it."

How do you and your audience benefit from the live reading experience?
I benefit by feeling useful and helpful. They receive mental and emotional stimulation. Even the very sick enjoy the rhythm and soothing properties of poetry.

What are some of the most memorable moments in your work with seniors?
My second book is based on exhibits traveling to the New Orleans Museum of Art, including one that featured Fabergé eggs. On a beautiful spring day at the nursing home St. Anna's Residence, a small group had assembled in the front yard to hear me read these poems. As the activity director began to pass around foot-high color photos of the Fabergé eggs, loud “oohs” and “ahs” began. Attendants who had chosen not to attend the reading came running out, pushing their charges. There was such a commotion. Some workmen "discovered" they had to walk slowly by.

At another event, there was a paralyzed gentleman in intensive care. His head was in a brace, but his eyes were bright and alert as he listened intently. At the end of my presentation, he said in a clear, gallant voice: "Thank you for a great, an animated, flawless performance." He made me feel as though I were on the stage at Lincoln Center taking my bows.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
Everyone needs beauty. So many people tell me that in grade school they enjoyed poetry, but in high school they stopped. Readings reintroduce people to the intellectual stimulation, the emotional comfort, and the rhythm and music of poetry.

Photo: Jean Grau. Credit: Patricia Senentz.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

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