Lynn C. Franklin, Literary Agent and Memoirist on Adoption, Dies at 74


Lynn C. Franklin, a literary scout and agent whose clients included Archbishop Desmond Tutu and who made a mark with her own book, in which she shared her personal story about giving up her son for adoption in the 1960s, died on July 19 at her home in Manhattan. She was 74.

The cause was metastatic breast cancer, said her sister, Laurie Franklin Callahan.

Starting in the 1970s, Ms. Franklin, who had grown up around the world as an Army brat, established a career as a scout for international publishers, finding and procuring the rights for forthcoming titles in North America so that they could be translated and published in other countries.

She headed her own boutique literary agency in New York, Lynn C. Franklin Associates, which specialized in works of nonfiction, and she represented numerous authors who were outstanding in their fields. Most prominent among them was Archbishop Tutu, the South African Nobel laureate who helped lead the struggle against apartheid and with whom she developed a close friendship. She sold rights to many of his books, including “No Future Without Forgiveness” (1999), his memoir of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, of which he was chairman.

But also close to her heart was her own book, “May the Circle Be Unbroken: An Intimate Journey into the Heart of Adoption” (1998, with Elizabeth Ferber), an account of her experience as a birth mother who relinquished her son for adoption in 1966 and reunited with him 27 years later. More than a memoir, the book serves as a guide as it considers multiple aspects of adoption from the perspective not only of the birth mother but also of the adopted child and the adoptive family.

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Ms. Franklin was a 19-year-old college sophomore at American University in Washington when she learned she was pregnant, but she didn’t tell anyone, including the father of the child. She was planning to marry him, but two days before the wedding, she bailed out. “He was a guy without a lot of ambition,” she said in an online interview in April. “It was obvious it would not work.”

After her parents became aware of her pregnancy, they sent her to a home for unwed mothers on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Being unmarried and pregnant was still considered scandalous then, and Ms. Franklin was directed to put her baby up for adoption. By the time he was born, she wanted to keep him, but she also realized, she said, that adoption could give him opportunities that she couldn’t.

“I wasn’t prepared to be a parent, but no one tried to think of what was good for me, and no one said you have a choice,” she said on the online program.

For years she believed that the secrecy surrounding the closed adoption process, in which the birth mother has little to no contact with the child or the adoptive family, contributed to her feelings of shame, guilt and poor self-esteem.

She had given her son away through the Spence-Chapin Services to Families and Children. Years later, both she and her son, independently of each other, registered with the agency saying they wanted to meet. They were reunited in 1993, about the time her father was dying.

“I found myself experiencing intermittent mind-numbing sadness along with utter joy and excitement,” she wrote in her book. Only after becoming part of her son’s life did she begin to recover from what she called “the primal wound” of losing him. But she also recognized that his adoptive parents were unequivocally his parents.

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While her career as a literary agent was thriving, she went on to work on behalf of adoption reform. She believed that birth mothers who decide to give up their children should not be allowed to change their minds after the adoption was finalized, that “there must be accountability and a point of ‘no return’ determined and adhered to by law,” as she wrote in an essay in Newsday in 1995.

She also served on the boards of Spence-Chapin and the Donaldson Adoption Institute.

Kirkus Reviews called her memoir “absorbing” and “a thorough, provocative discourse on just about every aspect of the joys and sorrows of all those involved in the adoption process.”

Lynn Celia Franklin was born in Chicago on Aug. 18, 1946. Her father, Col. Joseph B. Franklin, was a career Army officer. Her mother, Theresa (Levy) Franklin, who was born in Britain, was an antique dealer.

Lynn attended eight different elementary schools while living on Army bases, starting first grade in Sapporo, Japan, and finishing eighth grade in Orleans, France. She graduated from high school in Fairfax, Va., and went to American University in Washington, graduating in 1968 with a degree in French.

She quickly gravitated to the literary life, working at Kramer Books in Washington and later with Hachette, the French publisher, in New York.

Ms. Franklin set out on her own in 1976 and built on her global connections to become a literary scout for international publishers. She attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany for 41 consecutive years.

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One of her early successes as an agent was the publication of Edvard Radzinsky’s “The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II” (1992), which was edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and became a New York Times best seller.

She was among the first to promote the work of Deepak Chopra, the wellness and meditation megastar. Her stable also included Rafer Johnson, the Olympian once acclaimed as the world’s greatest all-around athlete; Jody Williams, who shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, of which Ms. Williams was the driving force; Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland; and Lee Cockerell, the service industry veteran and retired executive vice president of Walt Disney World.

In 1983, Ms. Franklin bought a house on Shelter Island, N.Y., and while she continued her peripatetic life, she came to think of Shelter Island, on the East End of Long Island, as home.

She joined with Todd R. Siegal in 1992 to form Franklin & Siegal Associates, which now, under Mr. Siegal’s ownership, represents more than 20 publishers around the world and scouts books for Hollywood.

Ms. Franklin reunited with her son, Hardie Stevens, who was given a pseudonym in her book, just as he and his wife were expecting their first baby. She was welcomed into their family and took great pleasure in knowing her two grandchildren and taking them on trips. In addition to her sister, they and her son survive her.


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