LET’S TALK : Writers and the issue of posthumous privacy

Let’s Talk is a new blog series, featuring articles and/or topics that I find engaging, interesting, provoking … basically, worth talking about. It is my continued desire to make this blog more of a conversation than a monologue, so please do chime in on these posts—and any post on this blog—albeit civilly. I welcome discussion, not a verbal food fight. And may the Others take you, trolls.

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Have you guys read Roxana Robinson’s piece on posthumous privacy for literary figures? I have, and found the topic to be rather interesting. However, I don’t know if I entirely agree with Robinson’s stance. She argues that the posthumous releasing of a writer’s personal correspondences to the public is permissible, if not justifiable, even if the writer had expressly requested that they not be. Her grounds? One: there is no such thing as privacy for writers. In fact, writers give up their claims to privacy the moment “[they] [mail] off that first manuscript, that manuscript in which [they] [reveal] [their] most burning and intimate selves.” Two: curiosity and human nature. “Humans have an irresistible will to discover and reveal,” Robinson writes. “If we burn the letters, we won’t put out the fire. It will continue, now fueled by speculation.”

On one hand, I can understand that. People—myself included—are curious by nature, and will always want to know about the private lives of others, regardless of who the other person is, whether they have a right to know or not. (Think small town gossip.) So why should we expect things to be different for writers, especially as they’re much more exposed and known to the public than, say, your next door neighbor? (Unless, of course, your next door neighbor happens to be J. K. Rowling.) However, I wonder if we’re being too lazy here. And too nosy. Do we really have the right to know the contents of, say, Willa Cather’s personal letters? Legally, there was nothing wrong in publishing them. (The will expressing Cather’s publishing ban had expired.) But even still, the ban was Cather’s decision, and prerogative. Shouldn’t that have been honored?

What do you guys think?


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