74. Problems with Nordland Publishing: 1980-1982

By the end of 1980, Karl-Heinz Schoeps and I had completed all work on the manuscript of DDR Literatur im Tauwetter (GDR Literature During the Thaw), including many revisions recommended in 1980 by the Nordland editor assigned to this project, Dr. Eva M. Hirsch. From Dr. Hirsch, I learned to my dismay that Nordland Publishing Company was experiencing severe financial difficulties, which meant that there would in all likelihood be a considerable delay in the publication schedule. On January 25, 1981, I wrote to Dr. Richard S. Haugh, Executive Vice President of Nordland, urging him to move quickly with the publication of my book. The concluding paragraphs from this lengthy letter appear below:

Several of the 45 East German writers I interviewed have written and asked about the state of the book, why they haven’t received a complimentary copy yet, etc. At first I took all the blame for the delays myself, explaining that I had other publishing/professional commitments and a full-time teaching position as well, that a serious illness and an upsetting divorce had interrupted my work schedule. More recently, however, I have indicated that the manuscript has been in the publisher’s hands since last August and that I expect it to appear in print soon (“demnächst”). If we continue to delay, we run the risk of alienating and losing credibility with the many East German writers who have been extremely patient, understanding, and cooperative to date. Since I plan to continue working in this field, my reputation is on the line, and that frankly worries me these days. But Nordland will also emerge a big winner or a loser—depending on 1) how soon this book appears in print and 2) how good a job we have done. If all goes well, as it still can and should, we will have proven ourselves to the writers and will be able to count on their support for future projects. Such contacts are particularly important, in my opinion, in light of the Nordland German Series we are contemplating.

In sum, Richard, it is in my interest as a specialist on East German literature, in Eva Hirsch’s interest as editor of this book, and in your interest as a publisher, that we get moving on this project now. All of us stand to benefit if we do, all of us stand to lose something if we don’t. I have entrusted you with much more than my manuscript, and I can only hope you will take whatever action is necessary to get this valuable material into print soon.

I had indeed entrusted Nordland with far more than the manuscript; my reputation was also at stake and I was at the mercy of this publisher. For Nordland had possession not only of the manuscript, but of all materials related to the book—black-and-white photos of the 45 East German writers represented, permissions to publish literary texts from the writers and their publishers, transcriptions of the interviews, everything!

Following my return to Oberlin in August 1981, I received a letter from Eva Hirsch informing me that circumstances had forced her to terminate her employment with Nordland Publishing. Then, in a letter dated September 28, 1981, Richard Haugh updated me on the status of Nordland Publishing Company:

Dear Dick,

We are in the process of relocating everything in Boston. Hence, the New York office [where my editor, Eva Hirsch, had been working] has been closed and the Houston office only handles circulation.

We have received about 15 boxes from the New York office. It will take time to go through each to sort and file. I would assume the work Dr. Hirsch has done on your book will be there.

Please, just give me some time to reorganize. If I am in when the phone rings, I am not in that part of the house. I play back the tapes late at night about twice a week.

Give me some breathing space and we will get this published.

Best wishes,

[signed]

Richard S. Haugh

In October 1981, I received a personal letter from Eva Hirsch, who had returned home to Vienna, Austria. Although she was no longer with Nordland, she had decided to write and advise me regarding the “actual procedure of getting hold of both [. . . my] manuscript and the other things.” I have not had any contact with Dr. Hirsch since that time, but I will always be grateful for the guidance she gave me at this critical stage of my project.

After coming to grips with what had happened, I realized that I would have to move swiftly and decisively, in order to retrieve from Nordland all the materials related to my book, and I also would need to engage the services of a lawyer. It was a very frustrating and upsetting situation, to say the least, especially since I had remarried in late July 1981 and was again working full-time at Oberlin College. I did not have much time to devote to this matter, but I nevertheless had to pursue it energetically.

In the first half of 1982, I wrote several letters and made many telephone calls to Richard Haugh, who had relocated from Houston to Belmont, Massachusetts, and was now acting as an agent for Nordland Publishing. In a letter dated May 13, 1982, Haugh warned me not to take legal action: “If you litigate, then there will be no chance of publishing the book quickly. It would take 3-5 years to get a court decision and Nordland has a very good chance to win the case.” Haugh suggested that I offer to pay Nordland a buy-back fee, which is what I ultimately decided to do. In July 1982, we finally reached agreement, and in the first week of August Haugh and I signed a legal document that terminated my contract with Nordland and led to the return of my book materials. I was now free to negotiate and contract with another publisher for the publication of DDR-Literatur im Tauwetter.