The trustee of a literary estate has a tough job. Be too free with a dead writer's copyrights and you may wind up with Arthur Rimbaud novelty items ; act too quickly to burn materials, as Emily Dickinson's sister and James Joyce's grandson did, and you could distort a legacy. According to The Guardian , Ian Fleming 's estate is "the gold standard," keeping the James Bond franchise happily and lucratively thrumming along since the author's death in 1964. But in its profitability and harmony, it's an outlier. When it comes to biographers seeking permission to quote from work and from personal letters, executors have to do a delicate dance—in The Silent Woman, her book about the various biographies of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Janet Malcolm called letters "the fossils of feeling." Different heirs take different tacks: James Baldwin's family continues to restrict access to those fossils, possibly out of discomfort with his sexuality. Conversely, John Cheever's family made his explicit love letters public. My new book, Also a Poet , while primarily a memoir built around my father's and my shared love of the poet Frank O'Hara, is also about my experience with the O'Hara estate, which did… Read full this story
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