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Carmen Balcells, Agent to Latin America’s Literary Lions, Dies at 85

Carmen Balcells, Agent to Latin America’s Literary Lions, Dies at 85

Posted by PanamericanWorld on September 23, 2015

The cause was a heart attack, said Gloria Gutiérrez, an agent at the company Ms. Balcells founded in 1956, the Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells.

Nicknamed “La Mamá Grande” after a story by Mr. García Márquez, Ms. Balcells rewrote the rules of Spanish-language publishing, negotiating better advances and multibook deals and abandoning a system in which writers would sign open-ended contracts with publishers. But she was also a larger-than-life presence, a confidante and friend who nurtured and encouraged her writers.

“She was much more than an agent or representative of the authors who had the privilege of being with her,” Mr. Vargas Llosa wrote in a tribute to Ms. Balcells in El País on Monday. “She took care of us, she spoiled us, she quarreled with us, she yanked our ears, and she filled us with understanding and kindness in everything we did, not only in our writing.”

Last year, Ms. Balcells signed a letter of intent with the New York literary agent Andrew Wylie to form the Balcells-Wylie agency and bring her writers under joint management. At her death, the merger talks had not concluded, leaving in play not only the future of her agency but also of one of the largest literary estates in the world, that of Mr. García Márquez, who died last year and is estimated to have sold more than 50 million books. In an email, Mr. Wylie called her “a great woman.”

Ms. Balcells’ agency also represents some 300 other writers, including Isabel Allende, Javier Cercas and the estates of Carlos Fuentes, Clarice Lispector and Pablo Neruda.

Ms. Balcells was born on Aug. 9, 1930, into a family of landowners in Santa Fe de Segarra, a small village in Catalonia. She studied business but never graduated from university. In a lengthy, multilingual interview in 2014 in her spacious Barcelona apartment, where both her charm and her fierceness were on full display, she said she had studied in Italy for a year, supporting herself by selling fake pearls.

Carmen Balcells, literary agent, at her home in Barcelona. She and Andrew Wylie have agreed to create a joint venture.After Years of Solitude, Spanish Literary Champion Takes PartnerJUNE 19, 2014

She remembered growing up under the dictator Francisco Franco, when a woman could not open a bank account without the signature of her father or husband. “I wanted to be independent, autonomous at a time when a woman without a rigorous education, without a powerful family, couldn’t choose what to do on her own,” she said.

Ms. Balcells married Luis Palomares, who died in 2010. She is survived by a son, Lluís Miquel Palomares; a daughter-in-law; two brothers; and three granddaughters.

Ms. Balcells said that besides having a family, her only dream was to open a literary agency with an author like “Gabo,” as Mr. García Márquez was known. The two met in 1965, and she sold the United States rights to his novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” published in 1967. It quickly sold one million copies.

In the boom years of Latin American literature in the 1960s and ’70s, amid political turmoil, she brought Mr. García Márquez, a Colombian, and Mr. Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian, to Barcelona and set them up in apartments.

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