Letter from Janell Agyeman

January 8, 2020


To Laurie, Naomi and Maya,

I am unable to join the celebration of Bill’s life you will host on Saturday, January 11.  Please accept my remembrances of a remarkable scholar, author and ally in the ongoing quest for justice and peace at home by African Americans and other marginalized Americans.

As you know, I was privileged to represent Bill as his literary agent from late December 2017 until his demise.  He originally sought assistance from Marie Dutton Brown, my colleague and lead agent in the eponymous Marie Brown Associates literary agency.  Her list was overflowing at the time, so she asked me if I wanted to respond, and I did so.  I still own a copy of the first paperback edition of one of his most celebrated volumes, The Black West: A Documentary Pictorial History, obtained during my own years in the editorial department at Doubleday & Company, and was excited to have an opportunity to be of service to so illustrious an author.

It turned out that I was the first agent Bill Katz had ever engaged. He had represented himself in all prior book deals made in his fifty-year literary career, a distinguished record for such a prolific and celebrated writer.  However, by the time he sought help from Marie Brown Associates, Bill recognized that he no longer had the contacts among editors and publishers in traditional, New York-based houses that he once enjoyed.  Book imprints and the companies that owned them had changed to compete more effectively in a digital landscape, where bestselling pop culture, celebrity biographies, political commentary and lifestyle titles take up so much nonfiction bandwidth.  He wisely sought help securing and promoting his interests.

Bill was interested in bringing several of his books back into print and had solid ideas for new introductions and other revisions to successfully introduce all the projects into the contemporary marketplace.  Ultimately, we agreed to focus upon The Black West and Black Women of the Old West, believing that once the path had been opened by republication of the former, the latter would most easily find its perfect publisher and audience.  Eventually, Fulcrum Publishing of Golden, Colorado, agreed to publish the new edition.  Their editorial and design team worked diligently to reproduce its text and more than 300 photographs and document images with the highest and best resolution available.

I will be forever grateful that Bill lived to see the release of the sixth edition of The Black West, complete with a new chapter on the Civil War. Its tributes to “My Favorite Detectives,” including the brothers George and Ed Tooks and Phil Pompey Fixico, adds a deeply personal and appreciative note that presages his demise.

Despite the enormous health challenges he faced last fall, Bill kept up with our email correspondence and the necessary editorial communications, which were considerable. He was a valiant worker, dedicated to his craft.  When he finally mentioned to me in an email last September that he “didn’t know how much time he had left,” I was startled and disbelieving.  I expected him to conserve his energy and heal well enough to continue the work.  We had talked repeatedly and at length about his desire to publish Black Women of the Old West in an expanded edition featuring a lovely, oversized format. Until the end, he had hoped to provide his publisher with new images of African American women who lived on America’s steadily expanding western frontier, so that a book Alice Walker once praised in a fan letter, and which was initially published for young readers, could be made available for an adult audience.

It so happens that William Loren Katz was the last new client I signed in my role as literary agent. We never met in person because I had slowed my travel and did not visit New York during the relatively brief time we worked together.  All of our communications were carried via email and the telephone, but the distance didn’t get in our way. It was my great pleasure to work with a celebrated, prolific author who genuinely respected my experience and insight and allowed me to do my best work on his behalf.  I count him as a kindred spirit, and fellow Syracuse U. grad–one who genuinely believed in conferring respect and telling the truth about America’s multidimensional, multicolored history.

Please accept my deepest sympathies for your profound loss and be comforted to know that Bill’s spirit lives on through his many publications, especially the ones that remain widely available in the marketplace.  The Dalai Lama XIV says, “Share your knowledge.  It is a way to achieve immortality.”  Bill certainly has done this.


Sincerely and respectfully,


Janell Walden Agyeman

Agent with Marie Brown Associates