Trouble booking authors beyond the grave

June 19, 1998

GATHERING together a contracted author's works following his or her death has become an occupational hazard for academic publishers and editors.

When Donald Ellegood of the University of Washington Press dealt with the estate of photographer Imogen Cunningham, who died in 1976, he went from a relationship built on "trust and a handshake" to one of difficult contractual negotiations with her son.

But he did manage to publish Cunningham's After 90, a 1977 photographic essay on the elderly, because she had named the Press as her publisher in her final request. Mr Ellegood says that publishing the book was not done for sentimental reasons. "It was a good book," he said.

At Cunningham's home in San Francisco, the two had discussed the idea of documenting people over 90, before "senior citizen was a phrase, gerontology was only beginning as a science and the concept of age discrimination did not exist".

Harvard University Press's Lindsay Waters remembers sitting on the balcony of philosopher Paul Grice's home in Berkeley, California, trying to persuade him to have his press publish his work. Grice, whose manuscripts could be found yellowing and dog-eared under his bed, was loath to have his random jottings collected into one volume.

But Mr Waters, executive editor of the humanities division, developed a long-term relationship that eventually led to a publication. He enjoyed exchanging ideas with the ailing octogenarian, who was suffering from emphysema and had to lecture from home.

Mr Waters met the philosopher's wife and friends. It was with those friends that he helped convince Grice to publish.

When the author died, just days after going over changes with the manuscript editor, some people came up to Mr Waters to say that it was a shame the author never got to see his works in print.

But Mr Waters believes Grice did see his book, Studies in The Way of Words, through to the end and worked hard on revisions. "He knew the fight with the manuscript editor was his last."

Mr Waters has published four writers after their deaths: Grice, linguist Roman Jakobson, literary critic Paul de Mam and comparative literature critic Bill Readings. Readings was 34 when he died in a plane crash. He had left behind a manuscript of a "versatile, vivacious and lively book", one that was completed by his widow, Diane Elam.

Archivist Melvin Baker also shows a sense of obligation to a deceased friend and colleague, essayist George Story, whom he admired for his knowledge of Newfoundland.

After Story died in 1994 and Dr Baker was taking inventory of the essayist's papers for his family, he found an outline for an anthology of some of Story's work.

He photocopied it for his own personal curiosity. When he showed it to other people, they agreed that an anthology would be a fitting tribute and People of the Landwash was born.

"I don't know if he would have said 'Go ahead,'" said Dr Baker, who edited the collection with Helen Peters and Shannon Ryan. "But this was a nice way to make the writings more available."

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