NEW YORK — Wendy Weil — a beloved literary agent known for her low-key but determined style and an eclectic clientele of groundbreaking, best-selling authors, from Alice Walker and Rita Mae Brown to Fannie Flagg and Mark Helprin — has died. She was 72.
Ms. Weil died Sept. 22 of a heart attack at her country home in Cornwall, Conn.
‘‘It’s like a face fell off Mount Rushmore,’’ Brown told the Associated Press.
A New York City native and graduate of Wellesley College, Ms. Weil was in publishing for 50 years, starting in the training program at Doubleday, then becoming an agent and eventually founding Wendy Weil Agency Inc. in 1986. Among the books she helped get published were Walker’s ‘‘The Color Purple,’’ Helprin’s ‘‘Winter’s Tale,’’ and Andrea Barrett’s ‘‘Ship Fever,’’ a 1996 story collection that was dedicated to Weil and won the National Book Award.
‘‘I don’t think I’ve ever had another reader as instantly and thoroughly supportive,’’ Barrett said Monday. ‘‘Whether a book did well in the market or poorly, won nice prizes or got no attention at all, Wendy always made me feel like she loved it and was thrilled I’d written it.’’
Ms. Weil became an agent during a time of profound cultural upheaval, and in 1972 she helped get Walker’s work published in the newly created Ms. magazine. Her clients included feminists, political activists, and gay writers, among them Susan Brownmiller, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Paul Monette, and June Jordan. She also represented the music critic Greil Marcus, essayist Philip Lopate, and journalist James Fallows.
She was as likely to take on a commercial novel, such as Flagg’s ‘‘Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe,’’ as a work of serious nonfiction, such as Lawrence Wright’s ‘‘The Looming Tower.’’
Helprin, whose Republican politics contrasted with those of Ms. Weil’s more liberal writers, marveled at how she could work with so many different kinds of people. He knew Ms. Weil for 40 years and said she was the rare person who had not a ‘‘nanogram of malice in her.’’ She was also improbably organized; the kind of agent who kept piles of papers and other materials on her desk, yet somehow always found the document she was looking for.
‘‘She had an ability to manage chaos like no else,’’ said Helprin. ‘‘At one time, she had some 200 clients, all writers, all crazy, all under tremendous stress. And yet she was able to adjust to so many people coming from so many points of view.’’
Ms. Weil had presence. She stood tall, around 6 feet, and her face was often likened to Diane Keaton’s. Her appearance was so youthful that when she signed up Brown in the 1970s, the author thought she could have passed for a teen.
Emily Forland, of the Weil agency, wrote iMonday that Ms. Weil had an ‘‘unusual personality for an agent.’’ She was not fast-talking or overbearing, but was instead described as ‘‘ladylike’’ or ‘‘quietly tenacious.’’
‘‘She used charm, meticulousness, reasonable arguments, creativity, and incredible tenaciousness . . . as persuasion in deal-making, rather than being confrontational,’’ Forland wrote.