Jack Scovil, A Writer’s Friend

 Every writer ought to have someone in her life like Jack Scovil. For many more years than cats have lives, Jack was my literary agent. He was gracious and kind; passionate about the books he agreed to represent and equally committed to the writers who wrote them. Once a month I’d call him in New York and we’d check out my latest manuscript — who was reading it, who wasn’t interested, but never mind, he’d say.  I love this book. We are going to find a publisher. Usually we did.

This Thursday morning I called to learn that my long-time agent had passed away. Jack had congestive heart failure a few years back, and when I spoke to him in January, he’d just left the hospital and didn’t sound well. Yet he was keen to get back to work, dogged in his intention to sell yet another manuscript. I have no idea how old he was. Nor do I know how he died.

In fact, I know very little about Jack. Ours was a professional relationship; for the most part over the phone, sometimes in person when I came to New York or he visited Toronto. It was my late brother Phil who connected me with him through a writer friend who thought I should have an agent. Jack loved my work, and his enthusiasm kept me writing. Other facts are scant: Jack hailed from Utah, moved to Manhattan in the late Sixties and eventually founded a small but successful agency with two partners. He loved classical music. He lived alone somewhere on the Upper East Side. He was a kindly, good-humoured man who seemed to hold much in reserve — everything, in fact, except the matter at hand: writers and writing, and the twists and turns of the publishing world.

He began his career at a time when writing and publishing were serene occupations. He ended it at a moment when many young writers have to earn their keep to stay in an agent’s stable; quick sales or they’re out the door in the high-pressure world of blockbusters and celebrity publishing. Jack didn’t treat us that way. He was honest and direct about the quality of writing, but also kind and faithful to the talent he respected. What he loved, he cared for and nurtured as best he could. There was no rush. He attended to the late bloomers, the voices speaking in odd registers, the pots of talent that sit on the back burner and come to a slow boil.

So now he’s gone.

Yet I think that when someone dies, all that’s unessential goes with them, so that what remains is the bright gleam (or dark shadow) of who that person was and what that life has given us. As for Jack, he plowed a narrow furrow, but he plowed it deep. Writers were his life, and he treated us well. With great modesty and without any self-disclosure, he showed by example that if disappointments mount, we disgruntled writers may choose bitterness and resentment — or the good grace to give of ourselves out of the richness of what we love most. That kind of richness is inexhaustible. That was how he treated me.

Good-bye, Jack, and safe home.

I will miss your generous spirit.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Jack Scovil, A Writer’s Friend

  1. Caro Soles

    Oh Carol, what a lovely tribute! I called Jack on Friday and was completey in shock to hear he had died the day before. I have been feeling the aftershocks ever since, teying to think of my own tribute to the man who stood by me and my writing year after year, always encouraging, always giving me what I needed to keep writing when I would get discoursged. I will miss him terribly.

    Caro

  2. Terry

    Jack was my agent, too, and all that you wrote here is beautiful and true.
    He was 74. I know this because Russ Galen posted news of Jack’s passing on FB. And he was a graduate of Stanford. He told me this a couple of years ago when I suggested he had the demeanor of a Southern gentleman and told him that was what wooed me to his agency.

    • Thanks for that information, Terry. I’ll look at Russ Galen’s posting. “Southern gentleman” is a perfect description. Or even just “gentleman.” I hope you (and all of us) will find his equal once again.

  3. I’ll chime in here. Jack was also my agent. Had been my agent since 2001. We went through the publication of 8 books together. He was always my staunchest supporter, as you say, the books came first. When I expressed concern about rejections, he would scoff it off, saying editors “have to say something” and not to worry about the reasons. Maybe there really wasn’t a reason. He was a straight shooter, and one of the best editors I’ve ever had. His passing leaves a hole in the publishing world. There will not be another agent like him.

  4. It’s really good to hear your story, and to know that so many people shared this great experience with Jack.

  5. Irene Guilford

    Loved your tribute, Carole, even if I didn’t know the man. The world needs more people like him.

  6. Do you know the date that he passed away? The post and the comments are all dated 2/3/12.

  7. I may be confusing you (maybe everyone!) because I write dates as day-month-year. I’m told Jack died last Thurs., 23 Feb.

  8. Caro

    That’s what I was told, Carole, when I called on Friday 24. What a shock. He was my agent for 16 years. When I taed about him to my writer friends, they all envied me.

    Caro

  9. Hi – Jack was my agent too and I couldn’t have said it any better. He truly was a prince among men, particularly to those of us lucky enough to have been represented by him. I am still in shock that he is gone but there is a piece of him that will live in me forever. It’s funny — I didn’t know much about Jack, but I knew that he cared so much about his writers. He was a wonderful, brilliant, humble and kind man. Thank you for your beautiful tribute to a beautiful man —
    Mollie Fermaglich

  10. And thank you, too, for sharing your thoughts. It’s so wonderful to realize how many people have been touched by Jack’s kindness and humility. I feel the same as you — still in shock, but knowing a part of him will be with me forever.

  11. Joe B

    Sorry for the loss of your friend and literary agent, Jack Scovil.

    Cousin Joe

  12. Thanks, Joe. It was a privilege to have known him.

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