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And speaking of dead authors….

by Miriam

Actually, it’s been a while since L. Ron Hubbard or Ernest Hemingway has come out with a new book, so I’m eagerly awaiting the many volumes sure to be forthcoming from the recalcitrant and mysterious J.D. Salinger. In the meantime, George Carlin’s wife has pulled together the great comedian and cultural gadfly’s letters.  Personally, I’m a little sad about this.

For me, part of the experience of an artist’s work is the intention behind it, what that artist chose to say publicly and the vacant lots she or he left purposely empty. Posthumous publications leave me feeling a bit embarrassed for those great artists who, unless they gave specific deathbed instructions to their heirs about how to dispose of their unfinished or personal work, might be horrified to find these writings and ideas collected and organized by others.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but the man who said, “People who say they don’t care what people think are usually desperate to have people think they don’t care what people think” may have actually cared what people thought of his work.

What do you all think?

12 Responses to And speaking of dead authors….

  1. Bethany says:

    I have a problem with it, too. And not just because I cynically wonder how many of the family members now releasing work are doing so for their own benefit. As a writer, I would be (dead, so I wouldn't care but for the sake of this statement) very embarrassed and disappointed if my family published things I hadn't.

  2. Liesl says:

    Definitely agree. Not everything great authors write is great. Some things are meant to stay in a drawer, or a safe, or buried six feet under.

  3. E. Elle says:

    I think there's a reason artists share some things and not others. They had their own lives, just like anybody else. I almost feel like it's a violation of their humanity to just assume you can publish something after they've passed on. I wouldn't want the people I leave behind to feel they had a right to my work when I didn't feel anyone else did. (Although, like Bethany, I'd be dead so I don't know how much I'd actually care.)

  4. M.R.J. Le Blanc says:

    I think if I have any works that I don't want published, I'll put a stipulation in my will that all copies of said works are to be destroyed. Don't know if any of my future heirs would be willing to violate my will 😉

  5. Nicole L Rivera says:

    I'm undecided. Maybe the deceased author was wrong about their work, and it is actually a brilliant master piece. I don't think their work should be published just because of their name. The work should have merit enough to be published, even if not by a famous author. However, the author's wishes should always be considered first. If they specified not to publish something, don't publish it.

  6. Kathi Oram Peterson says:

    You've brought up some thought provoking points. I definitely agree that work shouldn't be published just because a famous person wrote it. The work should have merit. Hmm, makes a author wonder…

  7. Gilbert J. Avila says:

    And then you have what are called "posthumous collaborations," where a living author will take a fragment, or even a single sentence, and build a story around it. August Derleth did this a lot with H.P. Lovecraft's fragments and notes.

  8. Mardi Link says:

    I just finished reading Joyce Maynard's "At Home in the World," and I have to say I prefer the image of a big safe in Mr. Saliger's back room in his old Cornish farmhouse, filled with literary goodies, rather than the real thing published w/o his permission and available on a book shelf. Now if he agreed to publication after his death, that's another story. In that case, I'd be standing in line to buy the books!

  9. Anonymous says:

    They're dead. They don't think one way or another unless, as you have mentioned, they specifically instructed their unpublished writings not be published. George Carlin likely never considered publishing his letters. He wrote them to be read by at least one other person. I see no harm in letting the rest of us peek over the recipient's shoulder to read his words as well. I don't consider it unseemly. The caveat, of course, being whether Mr. Carlin ever indicated those letters were private and not to be shared with anyone else.

  10. Anonymous says:

    As for J.D. Salinger. Makes no sense to me that if he wrote we should not read. I say if he wrote they should be read. Otherwise, why did he bother? I know, I know. I've read that he did it for his own private pleasure. Ha. In that case I see no reason we should be held hostage to his selfishness. Print what he wrote, I say. I can't stand phonies.

  11. Kristin Laughtin says:

    For me, this is a matter of respect. I'm not a literary legend by any means, but I would want my family to assume I don't want my works published unless I've indicated otherwise. I really like the first book I wrote, and if I died tomorrow they know I'd be OK with that one being published, but the second one is crap. If it were published, it would still represent me, and it's not in a state where I want it doing that. The same could be true for any great author. Just because they've written one or several masterpieces doesn't mean they don't have things in their trunks that they never want to see the light of day. It feels like an invasion of privacy. I really think we should operate more under the assumption that the author(s) wouldn't want those works published unless they indicate otherwise, instead of the other way around.

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