Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Willa Cather's Letters Released For Publication Against Her Wishes

WillsWilla Cather, a 20th century American author, did not want to have any of the letters she sent or received to be published to the public or quoted from. In fact, she supposedly destroyed most of her letters. For the letters that did survive, she ordered the executors of the estate to never disclose those letters. Well, it now appears that her wishes have been ignored because not even 70 years after her death an anthology of her correspondence is set to be published. The anthology, The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, will provide scholars the opportunity to understand this eccentric author and businesswoman. Many believed that the reason that Cather did not want her private correspondence released was because the letters supposedly contained details about her sexual life. While this was not inherently true, the letter have revealed that Cather did clearly have a preference for women. It is more likely that the reason she did not disclose her letters was because she did not want to be known about anything other than her books.

In the preface of the anthology, the editors Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout did note that the publications of Cather's letters violated her wishes in her will that apparently expired in 2011. The will expired after the death of the second executor, Charles Cather. Following Charles' death, the copyright passed to a trust. This transfer is what led to a dropping of "the ban on quotation and publication of the letters." This transfer also means that movie adaptions of her works can also be made. 

See Jennifer Schuessler, O Revelations! Letters, Once Banned, Flesh Out Willa Cather, The New York Times, Mar. 21, 2013.

Special thanks to Karen Boxx for bringing this article to my attention.


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Such a fascinating topic- (i) the wishes of authors/other creators; (ii) what they wanted done with their works/personal papers after death; and (iii) what actually happened.

Posted by: Barrett Shipp | Mar 25, 2013 8:04:33 AM

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