Sterling Lord, 1920-2022
Sterling Lord (that’s his real name) was the literary agent who sold my first work of fiction, The Legend of Bagger Vance, in 1994, and my most recent, A Man at Arms, in 2021. He also sold Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in 1954, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1962, and so many others it’s impossible to count.
Sterling died on Monday, his 102nd birthday. I once asked him what his philosophy of agenting was. He said, “I try to get my clients what they want.” He meant that creatively and spiritually as well as financially.
Obituaries will say, “He was the last of a breed.” He really was.
Here’s a story:
Sterling was a tennis player and a damn good one. Immediately after WWII, he happened to be in France when the French sports establishment, wanting to return to normalcy as quickly as possible, was organizing the first post-war French Open. The event was to be held, as it is today, at Roland Garros Stadium outside Paris.
Sterling was invited to play. He knew his game was not of international championship caliber, but he plunged in and gave it everything he had. He actually won a couple of matches and didn’t fall until he took the eventual champion to five sets. It was the tennis pinnacle of his life.
On his keychain, to his final day, Sterling kept a much-worn bronze disc, about one inch in diameter.
Sterling’s locker disc from that Open.
In 2020, at 99 years (or maybe 100), he was still manhandling himself out of a transport van (aided by his stalwart attendant Marla) at 15 degrees Fahrenheit in an icy New York February to help me make a deal with Star Lawrence at W.W. Norton for A Man at Arms.
I asked him that day if he ever thought about retiring. He laughed. “This,” he said, “is what keeps me alive.”
God bless you, Sterling, wherever you are. Truly, we will not see your like again.