Sterling Lord, Agent Provocateur

Not only was the recently passed Sterling Lord the literary agent of Jack Kerouac, he had, as New York Times writer David Margolick observed, a “perfect moniker.

“What was your name before you changed it?” a friend once asked Sterling Lord. When a book he had handled came out in Portuguese, an unwitting translator rendered the grateful author’s dedication as “to the Supreme God.”

Sterling Lord, Premier Literary Agent, Is Dead at 102,” New York Times

When I was in grammar school there was a kid named Sterling who hated the name. So, he changed it to “Chris,” which also happened to be my name. And that of about half a dozen or more of my classmates (a Gen X epidemic on par with the “Jennifer” problem). Had I known the literary provenance of Sterling I might have chosen a different professional name. I could’ve made a straight trade with 6th-grade Sterling. Glad I didn’t but still.

The Beat poster boy changed his name too. Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac doesn’t have the same percussive, knick-knack-patty-whack poetry as his famous nickname de plume name.

But Sterling Lord? Jeesh, what a natural door opener. What kinda nickname would that rank? Supreme God, comes close. My own literary reps could’ve had better names When I’ve had them, they’ve always been Matts and Marks, which is great when you’re bylining gospels but kind of shit for my career.

Could you imagine being a Portuguese publisher and Supreme God calls offering foreign rights for Quantum Deadline? Sold!

Even without being a supreme god, Lord managed to get Kerouac a deal for On the Road when the book could barely get out of the parking lot after four years.

“I was impressed with Jack’s commitment to serious writing at the expense of everything else in his life,” wrote Lord in his memoir Lord of Publishing. “…when American happiness was defined by upwardly mobile consumerism, Kerouac etched a different existence and he wrote in an original language.”

My utter failure at upwardly mobile consumerism has likewise led me to etch a different existence. But it’s at least original and there’s been some language. Lord knows.

RIP, Sterling.

By Daedalus Howell

Daedalus Howell is the writer-director of the films Pill Head (on Amazon) and the upcoming Wolf Story. He is the author, most recently, of the novel "Quantum Deadline" and editor of The North Bay Bohemian and The Pacific Sun. Learn how he went from small-town newspaperman to a feature film director here.

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