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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 It may also include original manuscripts of published work, which potentially have a market value; unpublished work in a finished state or partially completed; and papers of intrinsic literary interest such as correspondence or personal diaries and records.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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Fri, 18 Apr 2014 02:07:13 -0700

After Kafka's death in 1924 his friend and literary executor Max Brod edited the text for publication by Verlag Die Schmiede. The original manuscript is held at the Museum of Modern Literature, Marbach am Neckar, Germany. In 1999, the book was listed ...
Alaska Dispatch
Fri, 11 Apr 2014 08:11:15 -0700

The exquisite journey is composed of 100 poems chosen by Kim Stafford, the poet's son and literary executor, who explains in the brief preface that the poems invite all of us to write “our own proposal for peace ... our own consolation, manifesto ...
Clovis News Journal
Sat, 05 Apr 2014 18:07:30 -0700

The 38th gathering of the nation's sci-fi community wrapped up last week with more than 100 guests that included Arthur M. Dula, Heinlein's literary executor, and paranormal mystery writer Darynda Jones, one of Williamson's students. Williamson, who ...

Portales News-Tribune

Portales News-Tribune
Wed, 02 Apr 2014 23:00:00 -0700

Also presenting will be Arthur M. Dula, and ENMU alumnus and literary executor for famed science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. • What: 38th annual Jack Williamson Lectureship. • When: Thursday and Friday. • Where: Eastern New Mexico University.
Publishers Weekly
Wed, 02 Apr 2014 08:32:14 -0700

In January 2013, Donald Farber, the literary executor of Kurt Vonnegut's estate, asked Vonnegut's long time friend, the author Dan Wakefield, to come from Indianapolis to New York City to sift through cardboard boxes full of the late writer's ...

Boston Globe

Boston Globe
Sat, 22 Mar 2014 21:14:02 -0700

In 2011 I was giving the keynote at the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival when I received an e-mail from the literary executor of the Kerouac estate, John Sampas. He asked if I would like to stop by and look at the materials that were in his archives.

Scotsman (blog)

Scotsman (blog)
Fri, 28 Mar 2014 17:00:40 -0700

Until last year, when it was transferred to the main library for the islands, the archive had been stored in the attic of Mackay Brown's long-time friend and his literary executor after his death, Archive Bevan. Orcadian writer Morag MacInnes, whose ...
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David Budbill of Wolcott reads some of his poems during a meeting of the Burlington Writers' Workshop on March 18, 2014. Budbill will kick off PoemCity 2014 with a reading in the Statehouse chamber in Montpelier. / GLENN RUSSELL/FREE PRESS ...

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