The Agent Behind the Cancer Memoir

In this weekend’s New York Times Book Review, Dana Jenning tackled the cancer memoir as a mini-genre. Among the recent examples discussed is Bruce Feiler’s The Council of Dads, which describes how after his cancer diagnosis, the author chose six men to serve as surrogate fathers for his two young daughters.

One of those men was David Black, Feiler’s longtime agent.

Black told The Observer Feiler called “within days” of the diagnosis to say that he had an idea for a book—but didn’t tell him until later that he wanted him to be one of the substitute dads.

“My professional involvement is very different than my personal involvement with the girls, ” Black said, adding that it was “a little strange to be out from behind the curtain.”

Black is something of an expert on the cancer memoir. Before selling Feiler’s The Council of Dads to William Morrow, he sold Hyperion Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture, a 2008 bestseller based on a talk the Carnegie Mellon professor gave after being told he had six months to live.

Black downplayed the similarities between the two books, saying that Feiler’s book was about living rather than dying, but acknowledging Pausch’s tremendous success. “Randy’s story certainly resonated with readers,” he said.

“When it comes to cancer books, we need the thing itself, not the window dressing,” Jennings wrote in his review—but sometimes the window dressing is interesting, too.

The Agent Behind the Cancer Memoir