Linda K. Zecher

Book lovers can once again buy stock in "Curious George," "The Lord of the Rings," and even "Webster's New World Dictionary." After more than a decade of tumultuous private ownership, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. returned to public trading Thursday on the Nasdaq exchange, with shares closing up 32 percent at $15.86. The swell renewed optimism that the Boston book publisher is turning the page on its 2012 bankruptcy. The 181-year-old company had priced its initial public offering at $12 per share on Wednesday, below the expected range of $14 to $16. 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers Inc. has formed an agreement with a majority of its creditors to eliminate $3.1 billion of debt, marking the publisher's latest effort to tackle a heavy debt load in the face of weak textbook demand.

The company plans to reorganize through a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, an effort it hopes to complete by the end of next month.

The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Houghton had hired restructuring advisers for help reworking its finances, citing people familiar with the matter.

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