Admired and loathed in equal measure, Andrew "The Jackal" Wylie is one of New York's most powerful-and ruthless-literary agents.
The son of a Boston heiress and a Houghton Mifflin editor, Wylie moved to New York shortly after picking up a degree in French literature from Harvard. Wylie flirted with bohemia as a Warhol-lackey for a few years-he drove a cab, did drugs, and spent many nights sleeping on the floor of various friends' apartments. He eventually cleaned up his act and set up his own literary agency from his apartment when he was 31.
The first few years were slow going as he carved out a niche as an agent to "respectable" authors, eschewing anyone he deemed too commercial or popular (a strategy he's maintained). He eventually started making a name for himself, and in 1986 he partnered with a London agency and sold off a 50% stake in his firm. Two years later, he landed his most famous client when he successfully wooed Salman Rushdie, who had recently completed the first 100 pages of a new novel called The Satanic Verses. By the '90s, Wylie had turned his boutique into one of the world's top agencies. In 1996, he bought out his English partner and opened his own office in London, where he spends one week each month.
Wylie's client list is one of the most impressive and prestigious around: Over the years, he's repped Philip Roth, Italo Calvino, John Cheever, Oliver Sacks, Norman Mailer, Martin Amis, Susan Sontag and Saul Bellow-and he makes no bones about the fact that he's a huge literary snob. Wylie has also ruffled feathers in the genteel world of publishing with his demands for massive advances; he's long operated on the premise that a publisher will only give a big push to a book if there's major cash at stake. (Not that publishers always succumb: When Wylie insisted on a certain sum for Philip Roth from his longtime editor Roger Straus, Straus recalls telling the agent "to go fuck himself.") But the majority of the time, the Jackal lands unparalleled paydays for his clients: He pulled in an $800,000 advance for Amis for The Information and more than a $1 million for Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet.
Wylie is on his second marriage. He has two daughters and a son, the latter of whom works at his agency. The Wylies live on the Upper East Side and have a summer home in Water Mill bought for $2.3 million for in 1999. In 1972, several years before he turned to agenting, Wylie published a chapbook of poems entitled Yellow Flowers. Some of the names of the poems contained in the volume: "Hands up Your Skirt" and "I Fuck Your Ass, You Suck My Cock." Copies of booklet are hard to come by: According to proud owner and fellow agent Ira Silverberg, Wylie had tried to buy up all the remaining copies of the work.