Former Walters head Gary Vikan wins book-contract contest

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Former Walters Art Museum director Gary Vikan

The inimitable Gary Vikan, former director of the Walters Art Museum and the king of thinking outside the box, has done it again.

Vikan, 67, just bested five other contestants in a week-long, literary version of "The Shark Tank" to land a major book deal.


"Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Art Director" was named the winner Sunday night of Pitch Week IV by When Words Count Writers' Retreat in Rochester, Vermont.

"It's a memoir. It's not a book that settle scores," Vikan says.


"These are stories going back to the '70s that struck me as odd, but that are revealing of the messiness of this industry that I've been a part of for the past 40 years and that does a lot of good.

"I was in the trade a long time, so I saw a lot. And I was in a museum big enough to allow me to play with the big players. I think the public should know what goes on."

As the contest winner, the novice author wins a contract with an independent publisher based in New York, a national book launch by the Meryl Moss Media Relations Agency, and the services of  literary agent Katharine Sands.

The six contestants competed in several categories, from manuscript quality to the author's marketing plan to book cover design. Each contestant was scored on a secret ballot by the three-judge panel.

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When the ballots were tallied, Vikan had the highest score.

Vikan's areas of scholarly interest range from Elvis Presley to the Shroud of Turin. During his 19 years as the Walters' director, he consistently got his institution involved in issues that might not strictly be considered the province of an art museum, from acquiring and decoding a rare mathematical manuscript that one of the museum's curators described as "uniquely ugly" to mounting a scientific experiment on neuroaesthetics inside his museum.

So it's not entirely surprising then, that the judges cite Vikan's "charm" and his gifts as a "showman."

In a news release, Steven C. Eisner, the organization's CEO, describes Vikan as "an exquisite storyteller and raconteur in the spirit of Mark Twain, Tom Wolfe and Bill Clinton" while Moss says, "Gary Vikan is a book publicist's dream. He is so engaging -- a personality that's hard to refuse."


A thriller set in Nevada called "The Robe and the Raven" by Kelly Tait placed second, while a manuscript titled "Harlem Hit and Run," by Angela Dews, came in third.

"Sacred and Stolen" is expected to be released by Select Books in the fall of 2016.

"When I retired," Vikan says, "I didn't retire with the aim of doing nothing. I wanted another act, but I didn't know what it was. I gradually found out that writing is the only thing that I enjoy doing enough to make me want to go to work at 7:30 in the morning."