Alaska Northwest Books R.I.P. : Guest post by Bill Sherwonit

Bill Sherwonit will be joining us as featured author next month, but in the meanwhile, he’s keeping the news coming — and this item is timely and important. Thanks to Bill for allowing us to crosspost this, which originally appeared on Bill’s Anchorage Daily News community blog.

I was sitting in a favorite café this week when an old friend and colleague in the book-publishing world came over to say hello and share news of an unexpected and untimely death. Sara Juday, longtime regional manager for Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, put it bluntly: “I have some bad news. Graphic Arts has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.”

Initially I didn’t get it. I was thinking Chapter 11, the kind that results in a company’s re-organization. Graphic Arts had been down that road once before and I knew the company has again been hurting financially. More than a year has passed since the company paid me any royalties. But Chapter 7? Liquidation? The company was going out of business? Wow, bad news indeed, not only for its employees, but also for its many authors and Alaska’s book lovers.

GACPC is the parent company of Alaska Northwest Books, which has been around in one form or another for decades – since 1959, in fact. (It became a Graphic Arts imprint in 1992.) Over the past half-century, Alaska Northwest Books has published hundreds of titles by dozens of Alaskan authors. For many years the company rightly touted itself as “the premier publisher of books about Alaska,” specializing in “history, natural history, biography, travel adventure, Native heritage, factbooks, cooking, guidebooks, and children’s books by Alaskans and about Alaska.” Though the imprint and its parent company have struggled in recent years, it has a laudable legacy.

I have a special fondness for both Alaska Northwest Books and Sara Juday, because the company – and especially Sara – got me into the book publishing business. Until Sara contacted me in 1989 and asked if I’d be interested in writing an Alaska mountaineering book, I never imagined I might become an author. The company published my first book in 1990: To the Top of Denali: Climbing Adventures on North America’s Highest Peak. It published five more of mine after that, the most recent in 2002, a guide to the Denali region. We stopped working together when I became interested in creative nonfiction; the company’s marketing people didn’t see much potential in such books. I largely lost touch with Sara and other Alaska Northwest Books staff after that, but I’ll always have a great appreciation for her role in my writing life, her enthusiastic support for Alaskan authors and books, and her friendship over many years.

She’s been out of a job for several weeks now and isn’t sure what she’ll do next, though she’s exploring some possibilities. Sara, I wish you all the best.

Though Graphic Arts filed to liquidate its assets last Friday (Nov. 13), I haven’t heard or read any local news coverage of its bankruptcy, perhaps because it did so in Portland, the company’s home base. I did find a couple of short articles online, including one by Publishers Weekly, which reports that Ingram Publisher Services – whose parent company loaned GACPC $1.5 million after the 2006 Chapter 11 bankruptcy and took over its book-distribution responsibilities – will continue “accepting orders, shipping books and processing and crediting returns” for Graphic Arts titles.

What all this means for Alaska Northwest Books’ many authors is unclear. Sara said she has no idea what will happen. And there’s no one at Graphic Arts to provide answers. The staff had cleared out even before the filing. Now the Chapter 7 proceedings will have to play out, which likely means that authors won’t know the status of their books – or royalties – for weeks or months.

Some of Alaska’s book-reading residents are bound to notice the company’s absence, though nowadays many other presses are publishing all sorts of books about Alaska, including the University of Alaska Press, my newest publishing “home.”

Still it’s a big loss, “like losing someone in the family,” as Sara said glumly before we said goodbye. Alaska Northwest Books, 1959-2009, RIP.

3 thoughts on “Alaska Northwest Books R.I.P. : Guest post by Bill Sherwonit”

  1. Hey, do any of you other writers with Alaska Northwest/Graphics Art Center titles have a clue as to what this means to us? Seems like it might be a good opportunity to get the rights to our work.



  2. Well, like all their other writers and creatives, I am out a bunch of money. A letter from the bankruptcy court just arrived which said essentially "don't file a claim as there appears to be no assets from which to pay you." As a left-out-in-the cold writer, I am reminded of this by Finley Peter Dunne, writing in Mr. Dooley Says: "The first thing a library needs is a shelf. From time to time this can be decorated by lithrachure. But the shelf is the main thing." In the big scheme of things, writers mean little to most publishers.

  3. Holy cow, no wonder the Alaska Almanac has not been updated since 2009! I had no idea, very sorry to hear this.

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