Anchorage author sues to release Bob Atwood book

Posted: Tuesday, March 04, 2003

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage author says Alaska publishing legend Bob Atwood is in danger of being forgotten by the state he helped create because the book he wrote is languishing in a warehouse.

"Journalism classes are graduating without knowing who Bob Atwood is," said John Strohmeyer, a writer in residence at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Strohmeyer, the Pulitzer Prize winner who co-authored the book, "Alaska Titan," filed papers in U.S. District Court last week asking for permission to distribute 3,000 copies of the book.

The book has been locked up by a federal copyright fight between Strohmeyer and Bob Atwood's daughter and executor, Elaine Atwood, who died in January.

The two sides worked out a settlement in 1999 that gave Elaine Atwood two years to produce her own version of the book. She failed to do so before her death. Strohmeyer says it is time to let his book out.

Bob Atwood, publisher of the now defunct Anchorage Times, died in 1997 at age 89. During his 54 years as owner of what became the state's largest and most influential newspaper, he played an active role in the big issues of the time, including statehood, the rise of the oil industry and the economic development of Southcentral Alaska, especially Anchorage. He also used his newspaper to push for moving the capital out of Juneau to a location closer to Anchorage.

The Times eventually was sold to its chief competitor, the Anchorage Daily News.

Starting in 1993, Atwood spent about three years working with Strohmeyer on a book about his life. Atwood hoped the book to come out while he was alive, Strohmeyer said, so he could answer critics and participate in any debate over what he wrote.

Strohmeyer said he delivered a finished manuscript of "Alaska Titan" shortly after Atwood's death. Two years passed and no book appeared, so he published 3,000 copies and prepared to distribute them.

Elaine Atwood sued to stop him and succeeded. Because Bob Atwood paid Strohmeyer about $50,000 over three years, the estate had a copyright interest in the manuscript, the court ruled.

The 1999 settlement gave Elaine Atwood two more years to bring out her version of the book. Once she did, she could pay Strohmeyer $5,000 and destroy his books if she wished.

Elaine Atwood said she wished to do exactly that. She said she planned to rename the book "Bob Atwood's Alaska."

In December 2001, the Atwood estate reported it had sent the manuscript to a printer. But no book appeared.

No version of the Atwood memoir is likely to make money for anyone. Strohmeyer says he has sunk about $70,000 into the project. The Atwood estate also planned to self-publish.

The dispute now falls in the lap of Ed Rasmuson, Bob Atwood's nephew and the executor of Elaine Atwood's estate. Rasmuson said he has not been involved in the dispute and has to get up to speed on the issues before he can comment.

An answer to Strohmeyer's federal court filing is due in about a week.

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