Unearthing future classics

Is the recent wave of newly discovered, never-before-published stories by iconic authors a trend in the writing world?

undiscovered worksThere seems to be a trend going on in the writing world. We’re not talking about vampires or S&M or even self-publishing or ebooks. What we’re talking about is a recent lineup of never-before-published stories by several iconic authors.

In early February, the big news broke that Harper Lee will be publishing a sequel to her bestselling novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The author wrote the manuscript in the 1950s, before Mockingbird, and tucked it away for safe keeping after her editor asked Lee to take the story in a different direction. Go Set a Watchman will be published in July.

Two weeks later, Audrey Geisel, Dr. Seuss’s widow, announced that in 2013 she found multiple manuscripts and drawings by the famed children’s rhymer. The first of those – What Pet Should I Get? – will arrive in bookstores in July. Thought to have been written between 1958 and 1962, the tale features the main characters from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Not only can Seuss fans add this book to their collections, word is that there are at least two more on the way as well.

Then last week, another Sherlock Holmes short story turned up. While rummaging through his attic, a Scottish historian found an antique pamphlet created to raise funds for a bridge: “Sherlock Holmes: Discovering the Border Burghs and, by deduction, the Brig Bazaar.” The work is being attributed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, despite the absence of a byline. At the time of publication in 1903, Conan Doyle was running for office in the town and even attended the bridge fundraiser. Some doubt the authenticity of the Conan Doyle authorship, but who doesn’t love a good detective story about literature?

While plenty of books have been published posthumously – perhaps the most porous of which is Charles Dickens’ unfinished last novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood – it also turns out that many familiar titles were left by the wayside only to be discovered by others. For example, after Ernest Hemingway died, his fourth wife and widow Mary Hemingway happened upon a stunning 332 unpublished works including A Moveable Feast, The Dangerous Summer and Under Kilimanjaro.

Then there is Jules Verne, who left behind a number of works that were polished and published by his son Michel Verne. Two, including the semi-autobiographical Backwards in Britain, were not discovered until close to a century after Verne’s death. Paris in the Twentieth Century was rejected by Verne’s publisher in 1863, only to be found by his great-grandson in 1989 and eventually published in 1994, 131 years after completion.

Karen Green, the widow of David Foster Wallace, was left with the 1,000-page unfinished manuscript of The Pale King, which was then whittled down to 540 pages by editor Michael Pietsch. It went on to be a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, though no winner was awarded that year.

Unearthing a manuscript is truly a gift from the writing gods. Making sure unfinished work gets published posthumously is an act of literary salvation. Both are yet another chance to savor the sweetness of voices not yet done telling their stories. We can only hope that the newly announced material will follow the path of other writers with undiscovered work and honor the legacy left behind by these masters of the craft.

Who are some writers you hope might have one final work uncovered?