FIRST BLACK MILLIONAIRE
A novel about Madam C.J. Walker, a woman born to former slaves who became the first self-made black millionaire by her death at 51, has been bought by Greg Tobin at Ballantine and One World associate publisher Cheryl Woodruff in a two-book deal that will also include an inspirational nonfiction book about her. Novelist Tananarive Due will write Walker's fictionalized life, based on notes accumulated before his death by the late Alex HaleyŠ who had planned to do a book on her himself. To be called The Black Rose, and set for publication next June, it will describe how Walker, born to former slaves in Louisiana in 1867, was orphaned as a child and worked as a domestic until the turn of the century, when she founded a cosmetics empire that brought her riches then unprecedented for one of her race. The nonfiction title, The Wisdom of Madam C.J., due in December 2000, will set forth Walker's secrets for her entrepreneurial success, and how she acquired her strong self-image against enormous odds. The deal for the books concluded an auction arranged by John Hawkins, Haley's agent for many years, who said the author had been about to sign a contract with Ballantine for such a book when he died seven years ago. Both books will be edited by Woodruff.
BEYOND THE P M
In the way the Internet can spread such things, it's quite possible that a prose p m called The Invitation by a Canadian p t and workshop leader with the unlikely pen name of Oriah Mountain Dreamer is currently the most widely read work of its kind in the country, reproduced on hundreds of Web sites, already cited in two bestselling books and constantly recited at weddings and funerals. The author expanded it into a book of ruminations, which Harper San Francisco bought from Chicago agent J Durepos (for a low five figures) and published last spring. It now boasts 80,000 in print and has made foreign sales, through HSF's foreign rights director Kristin Ventry, into 15 languages. So when Durepos approached HSF with a subsequent book by Oriah, The Dance, the price was considerably higher, rising to a very solid six figures. It was executive editor John Loudon, oddly enough another Canadian, who shelled out; he plans to publish in spring 2001. Needless to say, the new book embraces another p m by the Toronto-based single mother, whose life has been considerably changed by her success.
WRITING WITH HIS HEAD
Christy Nolan caused a sensation 12 years ago when, at the age of 21, he published Under the Eye of the Clock, a memoir of his remarkable life up until then. As a result of oxygen deprivation at birth, he had no use of his limbs and could not speak. He wrote with a stick fastened to his forehead, on which he tapped typewriter keys to form words, his mother holding his head steady the while. His mind was not affected, however, and the words that emerged so laboriously were golden, a wild whirl that suggested Joyce, Yeats, Hopkins. Now he has published, in London, a second book, The Banyan Tree, described as an epic saga of Irish rural life, and Richard and Jeannette Seaver at Arcade have snapped up American rights from agent Russ Galen of Scovil, Chichak & Galen. Richard, who was an early publisher of Samuel Beckett's here, says, "Not since the early Beckett have I been so moved and excited by a work of Irish fiction." It will be Arcade's lead fiction title next March.
GOOD 7 FOR 'HIGH FIVE'
Janet Evanovich seems to have tickled a number of reader and critical funny bones with her novels about Stephanie Plum, the New Jersey bounty hunter whose zany adventures made a bestseller out of High Five, her last excursion. So Jennifer Enderlin, her editor at St. Martin's Press, was happy to come up with the necessary "substantial seven figures" to assure she would continue to get the author's next three books. The North American rights deal, worked out with Robert Gottlieb at William Morris, calls for the delivery of the next in line, Hot Six, next summer and a book probably to be called "seven-something" the following summer. A numerical Sue Grafton in the making?
One of the books being talked up at Frankfurt was in fact only an extended outline: Hungry like the Wolf, the story of a female werewolf by Canadian author Kelley Armstrong, being shopped by Toronto agent Helen Heller. Now we hear that, in addition to sales here to Penguin (via Carol De Santi) and in the U.K., Germany, Holland, Sweden and Brazil, Coast agent Steven Fisher at APA has optioned movie rights to Alexis Productions.... Another Canadian title making waves on the Main was Alistair MacLeod's highly praised novel No Great Mischief, which eventually sold to S. Fischer Verlag for an offer that doubled the nearest six-figure German offer. Publisher McClelland & Stewart's Marilyn Biderman wielded the gavel, and has already sold the book to Norton here and Cape in London.... An endearing pig named Olivia helped get Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing in the U.S. and U.K. off to a flying start in their drive for more foreign co-editions. The title, by newcomer author-illustrator Ian Falconer, was sold in France, Germany, Holland, Denmark and Japan.... Morgan Entrekin at Grove/Atlantic wants it to be known that Ellen Ruppel Shell's book on the genetics of obesity, The Hungry Gene, mentioned in "Rights Alert" the other day, was actually acquired, from Kris Dahl at ICM, by Andrew Miller, a new editor at the house.... For those puzzled by the last item, "PW Rights Alert" is a new biweekly e-mail service of rights information, very like this column, which is available free for now (and by pay-per-view next month). Go to the PW Web page at publishersweekly.com to sign up. There'll be another "Alert" out even before you read this.