Buchmesse Veterans Recall ‘Frankfurt Moments’

In News by Porter Anderson

The industry in Frankfurt’s 75 years has changed, a lot. But some faithfully recall their personal highs – those ‘moments’ at Buchmesse.

Philipp Keel of Zurich’s Diogenes: ‘To have grown up at the bar of the Frankfurter Hof.’ Image: Diogenes Verlag, Franco Tettamanti

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Frankfurt and LitAg ‘Moments’

When Publishing Perspectives put out the call for some Frankfurt “moments”—those standout recollections of trade visitors, literary agents, and exhibitors over the years—several stood out to us, and we wanted to bring them to you.

Recently, the veteran industry player Mike Shatzkin wrote that today’s publishing industry is divided into “people who think book publishing is largely the business it has always been, and those who are seeing it isn’t and won’t ever be again.”

And in the clear-eyed, fond, and frank recollections you’ll find here, we think you’ll agree that we’re hearing from a few of those who know with immense clarity that it’s all changed during the march of Frankfurt’s progress over the decades—but they’re generous enough to hold close some fine memories and a hopeful regard for future Frankfurts.

Philipp Keel: ‘People of Beauty, of Creativity’

The Zurich-based artist, author, filmmaker, and publisher Philipp Keel since 2019 has been the sole owner of Diogenes Verlag AG. He was first brought as a teen to Frankfurt by his parents—Diogenes founder Daniel Keel and his mother, the artist Anna Keel.

In this brief excerpt from a forthcoming exclusive interview with Publishing Perspectives, Keel captures the wide-eyed singularity of a youth that included those fabled nights at the Hof.

“The epicenter of Frankfurt,” he calls it. “It was really the Frankfurter Hof.

“It just was an overdose of people of beauty, of creativity, of alcohol, of drugs, of sex appeal, of wisdom, of laugher, of fools, of cocktail parties.”Philipp Keel, Diogenes

“That’s where we stayed. And to have grown up—not just in our living room, but also to have grown up at the bar of Frankfurter Hof—is something you can’t compare to many other lives lived in the culture of Europe.

“It just was an overdose of people of beauty, of creativity, of alcohol, of drugs, of sex appeal, of wisdom, of laugher, of fools, of cocktail parties. It was just unbelievable.

“Opera singers who wrote their biographies. painters who visited for whatever reason—everyone was visiting. It wasn’t just book people. You suddenly met Pavarotti at the bar, you met Lucien Freud at the bar. All these people, for one reason or another, because of a project, they suddenly showed up. President Mitterrand, his biography was published. I can’t even tell you how many amazing people I met just at that bar.

“I think it’s fair to say that—having seen everything I saw at that age—my life was as crazy as having grown up with somebody like Fellini.”

And the quiet smile you see on Keel’s face as he looks to one side and remembers? There’s a little Mastroianni it. Philipp Keel, when not at the Hof, actually did spend a lot of his boyhood time at Cinecittà—with Fellini.

Gray Tan: ‘Friendship, Community, Relationship’

A favorite ‘LitAg Moment’ from Taipei’s Gray Tan, founder of the Grayhawk Agency. “A selfie with one of our Canadian clients, Transatlantic Agency.’ From left are Carolyn Forde; Gray Tan; Evan Brown; and Marilyn Biderman in the foreground on Tan’s shoulder. With them on the right is a former colleague, Jennifer Lee. Image: Gray Tan, Grayhawk Agency in Taiwan

Last year, 2022, was the Taipei-based literary rights agent Gray Tan’s 16th Frankfurt. Tan is the Gray of Grayhawk, the founder of that bustling agency.

“There’s a famous line from Wong Kar-wai’s movie, The Grandmaster: ‘All encounters in life are reunions after long times apart.’ It’s especially true for Frankfurt Book Fair 2022.

“I’ve missed the fair only once—in 2017 when my daughter was born. That, and the two COVID years. I’ve made it a mission to hug and take selfies with as many friends as possible, because it’s been too long and the COVID years made me treasure these encounters all the more. This shot [above] is one of my favorites.

“Back when I started agenting in 2004, I had no clients and spent my days reading deal reports and emailing publishers and agents about interesting titles, with 99 percent of them writing back that they were already working with someone else—or getting no response at all.

“Marilyn Biderman was rights director at McClelland & Stewart at the time, and she graciously agreed to give me a chance when I inquired about Alistair MacLeod’s works. I remember our first meeting that year in Frankfurt vividly, when she said, ‘Gray, did you study in Chicago? You have a Chicago accent.’ I never did, of course, and to this day we still don’t know where that comes from.

“Fast forward almost two decades, Marilyn left McClelland & Stewart, ran her own agency, and joined Transatlantic Agency in 2017. Because of her, we’re now also representing Transatlantic in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Alistair MacLeod’s works are still in print in China, Marilyn and I are still working together, and I’m particularly excited about one of her upcoming books, Amanda Peters’ The Berry Pickers.
“One of our biggest authors, Khaled Hosseini, changed representation to Samantha Haywood at Transatlantic in 2022. Sam isn’t in the photo, but we’d just had drinks at Oscar’s to discuss a major renewal deal for The Kite Runner—which has sold more than 10 million copies in China.
“All in all, I feel this photo symbolizes the best of international publishing: friendship, community, relationship. Definitely a favorite ‘LitAg Moment.'”

Anna Soler-Pont: ‘The Rest Is History’

A 2022 ‘LitAg Moment’ from Frankfurter Buchmesse’s 75 editions. From left are the Spanish author Dolores Redondo; her Dutch publisher from Xander, Anke Roelan; Barcelona-based literary agent Anna Soler-Pont of Pontas Literary and Film Agency; and Redondo’s French publishers from Gallimard, Anne Assous and Sander Knol. Image: Pontas Literary & Film Agency

From Anna Soler-Pont of Barcelona’s Pontas Literary & Film Agency, we read: “My very first Frankfurt Book Fair was in 1992, when we had no cell phones, no emails, no social media, and no laptops, because they simply didn’t exist. I haven’t missed a single fair since then, so it’s quite difficult to highlight just one ‘Big LitAg Moment.’

Pontas Agency“I like to remember when in 2011, from the very first minute inside the LitAg, I was approached by various Spanish publishers to whom I had submitted The Invisible Guardian by the then unknown Spanish author Dolores Redondo just before flying to Frankfurt.

“By the end of the first fair day, between the corridors and my LitAg table, I had received three offers. The author decided not to go for an auction and to accept the offer from Ediciones Destino/Planeta. ‘Me, sharing a catalogue with Stieg Larsson?’ she asked me on the phone when I called her from the LitAg. ‘I want to be there, I don’t care about the money!’

“Over the following days, many scouts and international publishers stopped by our Pontas tables to get information about the novel, some of them jotting the name of the author down on a small piece of paper, as it seemed like a difficult one to remember at the time. We ended up selling translation rights into 38 languages, and film rights, audiobook, and graphic novel rights followed. The rest is history, as they say; the novel continues to be a huge bestseller in Spanish.’

“A quick second ‘Big LitAg Moment’: it was in 2022, when I was given a framed diploma, a bottle of Champagne, and a box of German chocolates for having been registered with a table at the LitAg for 25 years in a row. It was actually my 31st time at the Frankfurt Book Fair, because in the first years I was a nomad inside the fairgrounds, using publishers’ stands and all sorts of corners for meetings.”

Magalie Delobelle: ‘A Good Time To Celebrate’

Magalie Delobelle of the So Far So Good agency. Image: So Far So Good, Philippe Mementeau

From Magalie Delobelle, whose So Far So Good Agency is based in France, we read: “Frankfurt 2019 was a big one for me both on a personal and professional side.

“So Far So Good Agency’s author David Diop had a magical year: He won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens among many other prestigious awards. (We didn’t know it yet, but he was to be the first French author to win the International Booker Prize.)

“In 2019, I’d sold the rights to his novel to more than 20 countries. Magic! This fair was an important time for me and a good time to celebrate.

“And … I’d just had a baby! My daughter was born in August. As I was breastfeeding her, I planned to travel with her to Frankfurt but in the end it was too short to get her traveling documents in order.

“She stayed home with her dad, and I had to pump milk between appointments at the fair. No room in the LitAg was available to privately pump. I asked and thought it was a shame considering that for sure I wasn’t the only young mother there.

“So I pumped with a machine in the toilets a couple times each day. And each time, it became a  surprising bonding time with many female agents and publishers. We connected over breastfeeding machines and their terrible sound—and books.”

Editor’s note: Thanks to Delobelle sharing her experience with us—and her important point about young mothers at Frankfurt—we’ve asked our colleagues and are told that arrangements are in the works: “The Frankfurt Buchmesse staff is hoping to offer further alternatives. If you’re in need of a space close to the LitAg, please approach the staff at the front desk.”

A version of this story is in our 75th Frankfurt coverage from our Frankfurt Book Fair Magazine, which is available through the trade show in print.

The magazine has more interviews with fellows and grant-program recipients from international publishing markets, as well as previews of programming from our Publishing Perspectives Forum at Frankfurt including our Executive Talks with Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Nihar Malaviya and Nanmeebooks’ Kim Chongsatitwana; highlights of key events at the 75th Frankfurter Buchmesse; and coverage of Frankfurt’s upcoming guest of honor programs (Italy, the Philippines, the Czech Republic) and this year’s Guest of Honor Slovenia.

There’s also news of literary agents and agencies; award-winning books from guest of honor markets; focus articles on artificial intelligence, sustainability; and a forthcoming effort to get more Korean literature into world markets; as well as 75th-anniversary “Frankfurt Moments.”

More of Publishing Perspectives‘ rights roundups are here, and more from us on international rights trading is here. More on the work of literary agents is here, and more on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.