Jewel tops the bestseller lists, and HarperCollins is singing a happy tune

By Sandra P. Angulo
August 10, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Folksy songbird Jewel has surprised many in the literary world by breaking onto best-seller lists with her debut poetry collection, “A Night Without Armor.” The first of a $2 million, two-book deal with HarperCollins, “Armor,” which was released June 5, received a big sales boost thanks to the 24-year-old singer’s July 22 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show. Jewel’s book of 109 poems about love and loss is in its ninth pressrun and has shipped 225,000 copies.

It’s a rare thing for books of verse to become top sellers. Bill Clinton’s inaugural poet and Oprah-pal Maya Angelou did it. And so did Brit laureate Ted Hughes, whose collection of 88 poems dedicated to his dead wife and fellow writer Sylvia Plath, “Birthday Letters,” remained on best-seller lists for five weeks earlier this year. “Poetry doesn’t usually make the best-seller lists unless there’s interest in the poet outside of his or her body of work,” says Michael Scharf, poetry editor at Publishers Weekly.

Jewel’s editor at HarperCollins, Mauro DiPreta, agrees that the singer’s popularity (her CD, “Pieces of You,” has sold more than 10 million copies) hasn’t hurt. “Everybody’s really cynical about books by celebrities,” says DiPreta. “But her poems were good, and she has a market of fans who follow her. That’s why we decided to publish the book.” And who’ll be the next famous crooner making the rounds of HarperCollins book-signing parties? John Mellencamp, whose art works and poetic musings, “Mellencamp — Paintings and Reflections,” is due out in November.

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