The Call for Creativity Lives On: Representing The Late Sir Ken Robinson
It takes a lot of hard work to make great things happen. But sometimes, the greatest things that happen in your life just come to you. You might be sitting at a dinner table at a college university, and just after giving a lecture, someone might say to you: “I enjoyed your lecture, and I believe I have your next best client.” The woman who said that to me at a Fielding University event was Lady Terry Robinson, the wife of world-renowned educator, Sir Ken Robinson.
Well, she was right. From that moment on, I started working with the amazing Ken Robinson about 14 years ago. When a literary representative takes on a client, and the relationship grows, and that person, me, winds up placing his books in thirty-four countries around the world in celebrating their wisdom, it’s quite special. Sir Ken Robinson has been that author and the educational wizard in my life. I’ve learned so many great lessons from him, I could probably write a book about it.
At this point in my career, I’ve decided to honor many of the extraordinary people that I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Sir Ken is one of those great minds and I wrote this piece prior to Sir Ken’s passing on August 21st, 2020. What an amazing special man he was to me and a gift to the world.
When I originally started working with Sir Ken, he wanted to write a book called Epiphanies, which is a collection of pivotal moments in famous people’s lives that directed them to the true path of their greatness. I believe Ken had some twenty-seven people in his collection of relationships, including Paul McCartney, Mick Fleetwood, Ridley Scott, Sharon Stone, Meg Ryan, and many more. He developed a proposal and it wasn’t quite working, but the publishers all said they wanted to work with him. In 2006, we had a meeting in my office on West 21st Street in New York City. I explained to him that the proposal wasn’t working and that he needed to work with a pro to develop his ideas. He didn’t know any, but being a literary manager, I certainly did — a brilliant man, father, and accomplished author, Lou Aronica. I arranged a phone call with Lou and Sir Ken. Immediately after the call, Lou said: “Whatever you have to do, make sure that I write this book.” That book became the NYT Bestseller The Element. It’s been published in thirty-four countries. It’s still a perennial seller throughout the world.
As a result of the success of that book, his previous publisher, Capstone Wiley, had published a book with him called Out of Our Minds. They approached Ken in regard to him updating that book. I suggested to him that he not update it, because after reviewing the contract, I said it was completely usurious, and not a piece of business worthy of his talents. Being a loyal man that Ken is, he asked me if I could renegotiate the contract, and I took the representation of that book on.
After working with Capstone for six months, we hammered out a deal, and that book has sold extremely well and is now published in some eighteen countries.
One particularly powerful memory I have is being in London together during the London Book Fair. I had asked Ken if he’d be interested in meeting with any of the foreign publishers with whom we have worked. He was, but it wasn’t quite that simple, as Sir Ken was challenged with polio from when he was a small boy. Consequently, he had to organize a scooter. Since I’m the recipient of two artificial hips, I figured I should get one as well. It was quite an image, the two of us running around like kids in hot rods.
Even though last-minute appointments weren’t in my schedule, I decided to juggle what I was doing as I was being honored with Sir Ken’s presence. I was amazed at the attention people paid to the suggestion that I arrange a meeting with Sir Ken, and simply put, publishers from around the world stood at attention for the opportunity to meet him.
Coincidentally, I shot a little video of our meetings that day, which you can see here.
In that Ken is a world-renowned lecturer, he was always jetting around the world. One day he’d be in Brazil, another Saudi Arabia, then to England, and onward. He and his wife shared a passion for French culture, and they planned on moving to Paris one day. Not necessarily to assist with that dream, but perhaps in lieu of it, we found him a publisher in France, PlayBac. Stories of my introduction of Ken to publishers around the world are endless. I’ll never forget my negotiation with the director of the L.A. office of Kyrgyzstan, whereby ministers of culture and education in various countries sought to have the prestige of having Sir Ken’s book in their country. Sir Ken’s books are often sought after by smaller countries that desperately want to improve their systems of education, which I’ve always admired.
I’ve been working with Sir Ken and his projects since we began in 2006, and this brief article is an expression of my gratitude for the honor it’s been to work with him and introduce him to publishers around the world. I also want to express my gratitude for the many publishers and editors for whom we’ve worked, beginning with Kathryn Court, who recently retired from Viking as President, and Victoria Savanh, who is also a Viking. There are also countless foreign publishers and international agents and literary scouts to thank: Josephine Greywoode in England, Deborah Blackman, and Carlos Martinez at Random House Spain.
I’d also like to thank the literary scouts and foreign agents that have represented him — Big Apple in China and Taiwan, particularly Lily Chen, Luc Kwanten, and Wendy King. Also the Tuttle Mori Agency in Tokyo Japan, Ken Mori and Fumika Ogihara, and countless other literati around the world.
Thank you for your belief in Sir Ken, whose real purpose in life has been instilling the importance of creativity into the outdated standardized system of education, which doesn’t allow for bright minds to truly express themselves.
Peter Miller, Literary Lion