Jacqueline Miller, the doyenne of agents for children’s books in France, died on Friday, March 16, on the eve of the Bologna Book Fair, a fitting place for her friends and colleagues from France, the USA, Germany and the U.K. to share sunny memories of her. The Gallimard Jeunesse 40th anniversary party at Palazzo Isolani, a beautiful venue that gathered international peers, was the occasion for a tribute to her which, in spite of the imposition on her characteristic modesty, would have been met with quiet pride.
An American in Paris, a Parisian in New York, she was a bond between the Anglo-Saxon and French cultures. Born in the United States in May 1938, she grew up in Ohio, and majored in English literature at Vassar. By 1960, she was living in Paris with her French husband and expecting the first of their four children. Her career began in 1979, when she joined Michelle Lapautre of the Lapautre Agency as a bookkeeper, soon to find herself developing the children's rights list. In 1988 she left Paris for New York, where she created the children's rights department of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which she ran until a brief spell at the head of the children's foreign rights department of Simon & Schuster. But she was missing France and returned to Paris in 1994, took charge of the children's book business at Agence Lapautre, and then founded the Jacqueline Miller Agency in 1999. Among the clients she represented were Random House US, the British Agency PFD, British publisher Piccadilly Press, and, in France, she was instrumental to the success of, to name but a few: the Eragon series by Christopher Paolini, the Magic Tree House series, Ann Brashares, and Louise Rennison.
An example to her profession, she was sharp, dedicated and efficient, with unfailing fairness and finesse. Most important of all was the value of human relationships, every one genuine, many becoming friendships, graced by her talent at teasing humor and wisdom out of every situation.
She transferred the agency in 2003 to Ouistreham in Normandy, a symbolically cross-Channel destination, a small seaside town that was unaware of becoming a hub of a publishing network. She was busy with her preparations for Frankfurt 2010 when she was diagnosed with cancer, and set about closing her agency with her usual thoughtfulness, elegance and meticulous clarity. Throughout the ensuing 18 months while the illness was spreading, treatments and pain increasing, her witty and poetical letters and conversations were a source of serenity and joie de vivre to many of us. As was often heard in the aisles of the Bologna Book Fair: une grande lady!
Christine Baker, editorial director of Gallimard Jeunesse, contributed this obituary, a version of which appeared in Livres-Hebdo.