What kind of a feeling runs through your veins when you hear of a dead author’s work garnering thousands of dollars in auctions? Does it surprise you, enthrall you or make you respect that author even more? Believe me none of this overtakes me. I rather feel upset, since it took them an author’s demise to understand the worth of his creativity.
I feel sad for the author…because his work was so late to get the respect and recognition he deserved while he was breathing. Having listened to and seen so much of this kind, it is not incorrect to consider writing as a self-destroying career where success might come but to our dead remains. Even then there is no guarantee of this kind. Excepting a few, the born-lucky, the career in writing comes with perils of its own and demands a heavy price in exchange—a lifetime of dedication.
Franz Kafka is one such example whose works, published posthumously when he died young due to tuberculosis, got the literary world shaken world over. John Keats is yet another example who wrote the best of poems or Odes but was consumed by illness at a very young age and could not see most of his works in publication. So has happened to several other poets, writers and novelists.
However, not all the novelists, poets or writers who died were so unlucky. Many of them were already published authors and had some of their works published posthumously. The likes of Jane Austen (Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Sanditon, The Watsons, and Lady Susan), Albert Camus (The First Man), Agatha Christi (Sleeping Murder) and others had some of their works in print when they had their ashes laid in the graveyards.
The situation has barely changed even today. Despite umpteenth means available to the help of authors in the age of Internet and Digital Publishing, a vast tribe of authors still struggles to find a place among the published and recognized authors. They are bound to wriggle in darkness and languish in shady corners where unhygienic conditions devour them, corrode them and finally kill them. Yet those who don’t write must wonder as to what attracts people towards choosing a career in writing. It is a career where no penny is assured.
So when a book, published posthumously, draws a whopping amount, it certainly makes no sense in materialistic terms to the author whose poverty rendered him illness and death. However, what is satisfying in this game of death is the ultimate goal of reaching to readers. Matters it not, to a true writer, that how much money a book makes. It is the concern for a publisher. His purpose of reaching to the vast community of readers one day gets accomplished. So more than the dollars that a posthumously-published work fetches, the vast readership it reaches to does matter. The gift of the readership is perhaps the true tribute to an author—dead or alive. Maybe, this is the thing most people are attracted towards writing.
To conclude, I would quote an oft-heard line: “Writers write. Everyone else makes excuses.”
This reality is evident throughout literary history. Herman Melville is my most admired American writer. His magnificent work remained unrecognized until after his death. He was a customs inspector as a career but a writer of magnificence. Passages in his writings can bring tears to you eyes. This post is a powerful reminder of how unrecognized writers are commonplace.
That’s the tragedy.