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Publisher-agent who championed Stephen King dies

By Hillel Italie
AP National Writer / August 12, 2010

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NEW YORK—Elaine Koster, a publisher and literary agent with a knack for new talent who gave a second chance to an obscure horror writer named Stephen King and took on an unknown Khaled Hosseini and "The Kite Runner," has died.

Koster died Tuesday at age 69 at St. Luke's Hospital in New York, according to Hosseini's publisher, Penguin Group (USA). The cause of death was not immediately available.

As publisher of the New American Library in the 1970s, Koster paid a then-enormous $400,000 for the paperback rights to King's "Carrie," which had sold poorly in hardcover, and was later credited with helping to make a blockbuster out of Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying."

In 1998, she started the Elaine Koster Literary Agency, where clients have included Monique Truong, Kimberla Lawson Roby and Julie Buxbaum. Her most notable find was Hosseini, whose manuscript for "The Kite Runner" had been turned down by numerous other agents. According to Hosseini, she was so enthusiastic she left a message on his voicemail telling him his book would be a hit. Thanks to word of mouth, millions of copies have been sold.

"I am deeply saddened by Elaine's passing. Elaine was a wonderful agent, and I owe my career to her," Hosseini said in a statement. "She opened her door to me when no one else would. She was a loyal and dear friend, and I will miss greatly her warmth, her encouragement, and her unfailing belief in me."

Born Elaine Landis in 1940, she grew up in Manhattan and graduated from Barnard College in 1962. Besides working at New American Library, she was president and publisher Dutton and worked with literary and commercial authors, including Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Eric Jerome Dickey, and Peter Straub.

"Her ability to recognize well-written commercial fiction ... as well as important literary fiction, was unparalleled," King, who had been working part-time as teacher when "Carrie" was first published, said in a statement. "She may have been the key figure in the ascendance of the paperback in the marketplace during the 1970s and 1980s."

She is survived by her husband, Bill Koster, and daughter Elizabeth.

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