One of the world’s most renowned literary agents, Andrew Wylie has spent the majority of his adult life in a sort of crusade for quality publishing. In 1980, Wylie founded The Wylie Agency, which now has offices in midtown Manhattan as well as London and represents over 700 of the most distinguished literary authors, both living and deceased.
Meanwhile, Wylie's own biography reads like a romanticized yarn from one of the famous scribes in his bullpen. Following a spell in the Ivy League, Wylie became a would-be poet in the grimy 1970s New York art-and-lit scene, rubbing elbows with the likes of Andy Warhol while eking out a living as a cabbie until his 30th birthday. Part of Wylie's incredible influence on publishing is due to his controversial decision to ignore the "gentlemanly rule of literary agents" to never poach clients off another's roster. Wylie's approach, which was considered predatory and capitalistic—if not paradigm-shifting—earned him the nickname "The Jackal." His brazen refusal to do business as usual also allowed Wylie to represent writers of the highest quality, including Philip Roth, Jorge Luis Borges, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Arthur Miller, and Vladimir Nabokov.
Arriving at Harvard in the late 1960s, Wylie certainly had an inkling that he would end up somewhere in the publishing world. His father had previously attended Harvard and later became editor in chief at Houghton Mifflin in Boston. In college, the younger Wylie cut a brash figure which contrasted sharply against his more conventional Ivy League classmates. A sort of lone wolf, he lived alone off-campus and preferred his studies over normal collegiate revelry.
At Harvard, Wylie studied directly under world-renowned poet Robert Lowell. He also famously persuaded Harry Levin, at that time a Babbitt professor of comparative literature, to be his personal tutor by reciting a long passage from “Finnegans Wake,” of which he says he had learned 17 pages by heart. Furthermore, Albert Lord, who lectured on Slavic and comparative literature at Harvard, taught Wylie to sing Homer in ancient Greek—an invaluable skill that Wylie used years later to win his very first client, I.F. Stone, the author of “The Trial of Socrates.” A hard worker, Wylie took six courses per semester, needing only three years to graduate summa cum laude in French literature from Harvard College.
Since graduating, Wylie has maintained a healthy connection with his alma mater, mainly through his ability to publish works written by members of the Harvard community, such as Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy's 2002 book on race in America. More recently, Harvard celebrated Wylie's storied success by running a lengthy profile on the literary agent's parabolic rise in the publishing world. Released in 2010 by Harvard Magazine, "Fifteen Percent of Immortality" was a careful examination of the influence Wylie has cast across the current literary landscape. This article also afforded the "super agent" an opportunity to poignantly explain his main motivations to students and faculty members of his alma mater. "If you could capture the value of Shakespeare, monetize and preserve it, then Microsoft and Google would be subsidiaries of the Royal Shakespeare Company. That’s the way I want to organize the world.”