Felicity Bryan, a leading British literary agent who helped nurture journalism on both sides of the Atlantic, organizing a long-standing fellowship that brings a young British journalist to work in The Washington Post newsroom each summer, died June 21 at home in Kidlington, England. She was 74.
The literary agency she founded and chaired, Felicity Bryan Associates, announced earlier this month that she was stepping back from day-to-day involvement while being treated for stomach cancer. Her death was announced in a statement by her family.
Bryan was a reporter for the Financial Times and the Economist before joining Curtis Brown, a premier London literary agency, in 1972. She rose to become a director before founding her namesake agency in Oxford in 1988, establishing what became one of Britain’s few major agencies outside London.
“She was not just about promoting an author – she nurtured them, she encouraged them, she was a positive force,” said Lionel Barber, a friend of Bryan’s who retired in January as the editor of the Financial Times. “If you had to draw up a list of the top 10 literary agents in Britain, she would be there.”
Bryan assembled a genre-spanning roster of authors,representing historians, novelists, artists, journalists, academics and cookbook writers in their dealings with publishers. Among many others, she worked with Karen Armstrong, Mary Berry, Francis Crick, Gerald Durrell, Lindsey Hilsum, James Naughtie, Iain Pears, Rosamunde Pilcher, Edmund de Waal and Sue Stuart-Smith, whose self-help book “The Well-Gardened Mind” recently landed on English bestseller lists.
She was also known among journalists as an originator of the Laurence Stern Fellowship, named for an award-winning Washington Post reporter and Anglophile who died in 1979 at age 50. The fellowship began the next year after Post executive editor Ben Bradlee and British journalist Godfrey Hodgson turned to Bryan, a close friend and former partner of Stern’s, for help establishing the program and recruiting candidates.
“Larry Stern was the inspiration for this fellowship. Felicity is the unstoppable engine who made this program the success that it is,” Martin Baron, The Post’s executive editor, said in a June 12 statement announcing a new name for what is now the Stern-Bryan Fellowship. “With one American and one Brit,” he added, “the hyphenated name also matches the fellowship’s transatlantic ideals.”
Bryan spearheaded fundraising efforts to keep the fellowship alive and helped cultivate the program’s reputation as an incubator for promising young journalists. Administered with the journalism program at City University of London, the fellowship has been awarded to reporters including Jonathan Freedland, Audrey Gillan, David Leigh and Gary Younge of the Guardian; Mary Ann Sieghart and Naughtie of the BBC; and foreign correspondent Louisa Loveluck, now The Post’s Baghdad bureau chief.
“It was enlightened, visionary, and Felicity kept it going when it could have easily faltered,” said Barber, a 1985 fellow who credited the
program with making him more rigorous in his reporting and confident in the newsroom.
Away from her beloved books and periodicals, Bryan was often found in the garden outside her home.. She cultivated roses, dahlias, hollyhocks and foxgloves; wrote several gardening books as well as a gardening column for the London Evening Standard; and frequently hosted outdoor parties.