Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Interview with John Ackerman—July 31, 2013

John Ackerman's office in the Cornell University Press
building (Sage House), featuring covers of books
by some of his authors.
John Ackerman is the former Director of Cornell University Press and the Europe and Russia/USSR acquisitions editor there. The interview was conducted in Ithaca, NY on July 31, 2013 for East-Central Europe Past and Present.  To download interview, click here

Artifact: John Ackerman's Pencil

This is a #2 Dixon Ticonderoga pencil on John Ackerman's desk. Ackerman has been the director of Cornell University Press since 1990, and is also the acquisitions editor for Europe and Russia/USSR. He uses "#2 Ti"s (as they're known among connoisseurs) to do nearly all of his editing (viz. min. 1:36:11 and 1:41:43 of the interview). Many an introduction has been shredded by this pencil, for Ackerman is a famously ruthless editor of introductions. He noted in the interview that Vladimir Nabokov considered "Ticonderoga" to be an especially beautiful word. The passage in question is likely from Pnin (1957), a gorgeous novel about a Russian language instructor teaching at a thinly fictionalized Cornell, where Nabokov was professor of Russian literature at the time:
With the help of the janitor he screwed on to the side of the desk a pencil sharpener - that highly satisfying, highly philosophical implement that goes ticonderoga-ticonderoga, feeding on the yellow finish and sweet wood, and ends up in a kind of soundlessly spinning ethereal void as we all must.
The pencils were never actually manufactured in Ticonderoga (pop. 3,382), but Ackerman was; he grew up there. He describes the atmosphere there today: "Sad. Very sad."