In his opening keynote at the Frankfurt Book Fair’s preconference, The Markets, International literary agent Andrew Wylie offered a strong defense of diversity in literature, and of the importance of international voices, especially in a world that appears to be “broadly reassembling" along nationalist lines.
“On the one hand we have national markets, with commercial projects flooding local readership,” Wylie said. “On the other, we have international projects from abroad showing us not different things, but different views on experiences of realities that we all endure. Whether it be Karl Ove Knausgaard examining in microcosm his family life in Norway; Or Chimamanda Adichie reflecting on the expatriate life of a Nigerian woman in the United States; Or Salman Rushdie reflecting on the voices of India in the modern world; Or Edouard Louis, on growing up gay in rural France. These authors are not seeing different things, they are seeing things differently.”
And that’s what people want, Wylie added—to see things differently—a reality, he suggested, that augurs well for the future, despite current events and political realities.
“I think that autocrats and autocratic societies are doomed to fail. Why? Because the desire politically to enforce a single view of the world is inevitably destined to run afoul of the fact that a diversity of views is what we have,” he said, “People want more. They want to travel locally and globally, and to encounter different perspectives, because that’s the way the world is. This is the human condition.”
Wylie also weighed in on a number of other questions facing the publishing world. Will the U.S. continue to play a leading role in the global publishing industry? Yes, Wylie said. "I think the relative economic power of the U.S. is undeniable and, as such, it will continue to remain comparatively strong as a publishing market, not only in publishing works originating in the U.S. but also effectively broadcasting globally work from outside the U.S. market."
On the future of publishers and editors in a world where authors can self-publish: "The system works," Wylie said, "and publishers and editors play a critical role in the system."
And on whether we need more diverse books: "I would say that minorities are the majority of the world, and yes we need books for them. Because their view is our view. It is us. It is what we see and how we see it. Not how we should see it, but how we do see it. We see things differently. The populist view is that we do not. There is no appreciation of another perspective. But that difference is what stimulates readers and sells books. And resolves conflicts. And helps us travel through the variable, enticing world."
But while a supporter of publishing global voices, Wylie made it clear he was not a fan of HarperCollins’ global publishing strategy. In a short Q&A session following his keynote, Wylie was asked whether efforts to publish authors globally through divisions in other territories, a strategy most aggressively pursued by HarperCollins, was good for authors?
“I don’t know, I find the whole thing pretty amusing, frankly,” Wylie said. “I’m not convinced that it’s an astute business practice.”
Wylie said he found it advantageous for publishers to be able to offer [rights] in other territories, and called “the HarperCollins model” bewildering. “It’s kind of saying we’re going to take this author off the table, globally. I’m tempted to say who cares,” he said.