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A literary executor is a person granted (by a will) decision-making power in respect of a literary estate. According to Wills, Administration and Taxation: a practical guide (1990, UK)[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 estate[edit]

The literary estate of an author who has died will 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 It may also include original manuscripts of published work, which potentially have a market value, unpublished work in a finished state or partially completed work and papers of intrinsic literary interest such as correspondence or personal diaries and records.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 extends beyond the 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 conflict: 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][dead link] 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 legally owned by Marianne Steiner and Vera Saudková.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barlow, J. S., King, L. C., King, A. G. (1990). Wills, Administration and Taxation: a practical guide. Sweet and Maxwell, London. p. 192. Retrieved 14 November 2014. 
  2. ^ [1]
  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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650 news items


Tue, 28 Jul 2015 11:33:45 -0700

The final Public Forum of 2015, on December 7, will be a return engagement of Thornton Wilder's The Long Christmas Dinner, hosted by Wilder's nephew and literary executor, Tappan Wilder. For more information, click here. Public Theater · Oskar Eustis ...

A.V. Club

A.V. Club
Fri, 17 Jul 2015 06:52:30 -0700

Did the writer, who famously vowed never to publish another book after her first, even want it published, or was its release the product of a literary executor taking advantage of the author's advanced age? Maybe the most pressing question for readers ...


Thu, 23 Jul 2015 14:24:14 -0700

After Laurents' death, Saint became the literary executor of his estate and the president of the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation. With all of those extra duties, Saint pitched the idea of collaborating with Mastro to the board of trustees, who approved the ...


Wed, 15 Jul 2015 02:38:10 -0700

A few months before he died, Ellison claimed that he had nearly completed his first novel since the publication of “Invisible Man” 40 years earlier. What his literary executor found instead was a 1,500 page manuscript overflowing with Ellison's ...
Wed, 15 Jul 2015 18:18:40 -0700

Indeed, from Pym's notebooks, letters, and diaries, compiled in A Very Private Eye by longtime friend, coworker, and literary executor, Hazel Holt, along with Hilary, it seems that Pym — who at times refers to herself in third person as if she were ...
The Missoulian
Thu, 16 Jul 2015 10:09:59 -0700

Melissa Hansen, the poet's stepdaugher and literary executor, wanted to keep Hugo's legacy alive, so she worked with his publisher W.W. Norton to get all of his works available via Kindle. "The e-books are selling right along, and I think what's really ...

The Texas Observer

The Texas Observer
Mon, 13 Jul 2015 08:02:22 -0700

Over the years, directors made minor adjustments to the show, but all changes had to be vetted by Green or, after his death in 1981, his literary executor. Directors' inability to make major modifications, as well as an attempt to pull attendance out ...

Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal
Thu, 02 Jul 2015 11:22:30 -0700

Being W. H. Auden's literary executor, biographer and editor, Mendelson shines in his examination of Auden's deep, if sometimes unorthodox commitment to Christianity. Unlike most of the others in this book, Auden generally presented himself as less ...

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