The Death of Gracia Alkema
Rodolfo F. Acuñ
Lately, I have become more reflective, not because I am getting more considerate but because I am getting old. Grappling with what is surely the last edition of Occupied America that through no fault of its own has like Ulysses wandered. It started out in 1972 with Canfield Press (a division of Harper & Row and in the 1980s went under the direct supervision of Harper & Row. I worked with Gracia Alkema, a fiery editor with whom I often clashed. When things got heated she would fly down from San Francisco or I would drive up. It was a good exchange and she made frequent and valuable recommendations and changes.
You don’t have that many editors in book building today. The industry has been privatized, and a strict division of labor has taken place. No longer do you get the opportunity to work with an editor and it shows. Today everyone in the film industry wants to be the director when in truth the best trained editors as former script writers and editors. The editor like Gracia fights for their ideas and then learns to direct them.
Harper & Row was a big publisher and much more difficult to communicate than with Canfield that had small offices in San Francisco. However, for the most part, they were available, and you communicated with the editors by phone. They were part of the formation of the book. By the fourth edition I was with Longman that I did not know at the time had been gobbled up. Founded in London, England, in 1724 and it became part of Pearson PLC in 1968. Under. Longman, Pearson it used primarily as an imprint division. The tone changed and it became less personal.
By 2013 (8th Edition) the shift was complete. Communication with the editors whose function under Longman was outsourced. The new Indian editors were more concerned with production and I was a fly in the ointment that kept changing things. Unlike with Gracia there was no give and take. Initially, I had difficulty because the grammatical corrections clashed with my English. They spoke a 19th century classical English. Slowly we both adapted.
Pearson is multinational publishing and education company. Unlike Grecia its employees are not editors in the historical sense. They are concerned with the presentation of the product. The political has been strained out of the product.
Being an old man I feel like an uncle of mine at the funeral of my cousin Sandra. When they were putting her in the grave they brought out a small cigar-like box with her ashes. In a loud voice my uncle kept repeating “that’s not Sandy!”
Gracia Alkema died in 2011.