I’ve been feeling my mortality lately. No, I’m not ill and to my knowledge my life is only half over. But as I read through my work and my field notes, all unpublished material, I realize that what I have here is important, and, somehow, it needs to go on after my death. Already I’ve made provisions for my published work. I’ve added addendums to all my contracts stating that my godparents acquire control of what I’ve published should I die; my godfather gets it first, and upon his demise, it reverts to my yubon. It’s all tied up and legal through the laws governing the state of Vermont, where my publisher is headquartered. Beyond that it’s up to them to handle their estates, and what they inherit from my literary estate.
I don’t know how to handle the unpublished work and field notes.
I wonder if this is something other writers go through? For surely the bulk of a writer’s work is never published. Everyone I know who has written a book or two has reams upon reams of notes, essays, journals, and field-work languishing on their hard disk drives, or hard copies tucked away in notebooks that are shelved on bookcases. One writer who I met years ago (online, not in real time), Dr. Mary Curry, worried about the same thing. We spoke about it briefly in a series of emails, but by the time she died of breast cancer I don’t think she had made any arrangements for her unpublished work. Did it die on her hard disk drive? Did any of her godchildren or spiritual families manage to save it? I don’t know. If they didn’t, it is a tragic loss.
It’s been close to a decade now since two universities approached me asking if I’d made any arrangements for my fieldwork. Their assumption was that I would bequeath it to a university, and both were hoping it would be theirs who would acquire my papers. But giving a college control over my private papers and notes after my death leaves me queasy. It doesn’t belong to them; it belongs to the religion, and somehow, when I leave them behind I need to make arrangements so that they are open to the people who would benefit from them. An academic institution might tie them up for their own purposes so no one else could access them.
So I’m writing this blog in the hopes that some other author, writer, or publisher who has expertise in this can advise me. How does a writer ensure that his unpublished work lives on after his death without tying it up in ways that the people who would benefit from it cannot access it? Should I just tie it up in the hands of my spiritual family, bequeathing the work to my godparents (I don’t have any crowned godchildren to whom I can leave these things now) or do I make provisions that somehow, say, a few decades after my death the unpublished work gets opened to the priesthood somehow so everyone can benefit from it?
To most people these things might seem like nonissues, but to me, these are the types of things that trouble my mind on an infrequent basis.