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A literary executor is a person with decision-making power in respect of a literary estate. According to Wills, Administration and Taxation: a practical guide (1990)[1] "A will may appoint different executors to deal with different parts of the estate. One example of this is the appointment of a literary executor to deal with literary effects [...]".

Literary estates[edit]

The literary estate of an author who has died will often consist mainly of the copyright and other intellectual property rights of published works, including for example film and translation rights. It may also include original manuscripts of published work, which potentially have a market value; unpublished work in a finished state or partially completed; and papers of intrinsic literary interest such as correspondence or personal diaries and records. In academia, the German term Nachlass for the legacy of papers is often used.

Since the literary estate is a legacy to the author's heirs, the management of it in financial terms is a responsibility of trust. The position of literary executor has more to it than the simple monetary aspect, though. Appointment to such a position, perhaps informally, is often a matter of the author's choice during his or her lifetime.

If a sympathetic and understanding friend is in the position of literary executor, there can be obvious tensions: what is to be managed is not just a portfolio of intellectual property, but a posthumous reputation. Wishes of the deceased author may have been clearly expressed but are not always respected. Family members often express strong feelings about privacy of the dead. For example, biographical writing is likely to be of a quite different authority if it is carried out with access to private papers. The literary executor then becomes a gatekeeper.


Examples of literary executors include Sir Edward Marsh for Rupert Brooke, Robert Baldwin Ross for Oscar Wilde, Robert Hayward Barlow for H. P. Lovecraft, Rush Rhees for Ludwig Wittgenstein, Otto Nathan for Albert Einstein, and Regine Olsen for Søren Kierkegaard.

A particularly notorious example is Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche for Friedrich Nietzsche, as she resorted to fraud to make her brother's Nachlass more compatible with Nazi ideology.[2] An exceptionally productive example is that of Rudolf Steiner. Although he did not originally intend that the stenographs of his thousands of lectures to be published, he relented and named his second wife, Marie Steiner-von Sivers, to direct his Nachlass, which has produced more than three hundred volumes since his death in 1925.

Older examples of such appointments, such as Kenelm Digby for Ben Jonson, are essentially editorial rather than legal. A contemporary case is Christopher Tolkien's work on J. R. R. Tolkien's papers.

A notable example is the case of Franz Kafka, who left no will. His friend Max Brod assumed the function of literary executor, though most of the literary estate was instead legally owned by Marianne Steiner and Vera Saudková.[3]


  1. ^ J. S. Barlow, John S. Barlow, Lesley C. King, A. G. King, Wills, Administration and Taxation: a practical guide (1990), p. 192; [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ Reed, T. J. "Pasley, Sir John Malcolm". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/94106.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_executor — Please support Wikipedia.
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11 news items


Sat, 26 Jul 2014 16:12:24 -0700

Further artistic speculation occurs in Alan Bennett's Kafka's Dick, where the great Czech writer, Franz Kafka (Daniel Weyman), and his friend and literary executor, Max Brod (Elliot Levey), mysteriously materialise years after their deaths in an ...
Archaeological Institute of America Latest News
Thu, 24 Jul 2014 07:15:00 -0700

While papers that deal with Wilder and Newport are encouraged, we are interested in proposals on all aspects of Wilder's work––and on its relation to the work of other writers and to the several eras of his productive life, from the 1920s through the ...

Toronto Star

Toronto Star
Sun, 20 Jul 2014 21:04:21 -0700

Her muse, what she called “the informed air” is also the title of the collection of essays newly compiled by her best friend and literary executor, Penelope Jardine. Spark died eight years ago, in 2006; this is the first time her essays have been ...

New York Times

New York Times
Thu, 17 Jul 2014 09:17:50 -0700

“The book is very appropriately a children's book,” said Christopher Durang, a playwright and Wasserstein's other literary executor. “I think with the musical, Wendy was trying to make it appeal to children's parents as well, which, of course, you ...

South Cotswolds Gazette

South Cotswolds Gazette
Fri, 11 Jul 2014 03:26:16 -0700

Friend, fellow writer and literary executor, Max Brod has become synonymous with Kafka himself after overruling his friend's request and publishing a lifetime of work. It's an age old question – without the breach of trust, we wouldn't be talking about ...
Lincoln Journal Star
Thu, 03 Jul 2014 21:39:32 -0700

... United States of Amnesia,” a life-spanning documentary crafted by Nicholas Wrathall from interviews with Vidal and many of those who knew him, and vintage footage from television interviews that are tied together with narration from his literary ...
Lincoln Journal Star
Sun, 06 Jul 2014 19:01:26 -0700

The translation and book are obvious labors of love complete with commentary on "Beowulf" by J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien, his third son and literary executor. The book also includes lectures J.R.R. Tolkien gave at Oxford in the 1930s about ...
The Conversation
Thu, 03 Jul 2014 04:48:45 -0700

In July 2010 he appeared on Newsnight and Channel4 News,discussing the opening of mysterious boxes left by Frank Kafka's literary executor. His latest work of creative non-fiction, Englanders and Huns, was published in Feb 2014 by Simon & Schuster ...

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