There’s something eerie and unique about reading posthumously published books. Many times, the authors of these works don’t know that their writing will ever be released to a widespread audience, and they haven’t had the opportunity to fully edit and polish their stories for publication. The fundamental relationship between the author and their work has changed, because the writer’s life did not overlap with that of their published stories.
So how do you read something published after the author’s death? The answer, of course, is that you read it like any other book. You savor it. Some feelings you may have about the words and stories change, because the author is — much to the delight and ease of Roland Barthes‘ fans, I’m sure — dead. But a good story is a good story, regardless of the state of the author.
This list contains 19 books from across the wide spectrum of literature. There are nonfiction books, memoirs, short-fiction collections, and even poetry. Any reader, regardless of their reading preferences, can find a story to cherish among the books below. Check out my suggestions, and share your favorite posthumously published books with me on Twitter!
‘Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”‘ by Zora Neale Hurston
Unpublished during Zora Neale Hurston’s life, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” is based on the author’s interviews with Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the Middle Passage.
‘Suite Française’ by Irène Némirovsky
Novelist Irène Némirovsky intended Suite Française to be a series of five novels, but she only completed the first two before her death in the Holocaust. Set in and around Paris in the days before the German occupation, the first two stories of Suite Française were published in a single volume in 2004.
‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ by Marina Keegan
Marina Keegan had a bright, literary career ahead of her in 2012, when she was tragically killed in a car accident. Posthumously collected, The Opposite of Loneliness contains her essays and stories, including the titular essay, which went viral after her death.
‘The Bondwoman’s Narrative’ by Hannah Crafts
Believed to be the first novel written by an African-American woman who had once been enslaved, The Bondwoman’s Narrative tells the story of its heroine’s escape from bondage and flight to freedom.
‘The Bright Hour’ by Nina Riggs
Poet Nina Riggs wrote this posthumous memoir after receiving a terminal breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 37.
‘Ariel’ by Sylvia Plath
Containing a number of her most famous poems, including “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus,” Sylvia Plath’s Ariel was published two years after her suicide at age 30.
‘This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl’ by Esther Earl, with Lori and Wayne Earl
The young woman who inspired the character of Hazel in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Esther Earl became a published author in her own right, three years after her death from thyroid cancer, with the release of This Star Won’t Go Out, a biography containing her own letters and writing, compiled by her parents.
‘The Islands of Chaldea’ by Diana Wynne Jones and Ursula Jones
When Howl’s Moving Castle author Diana Wynne Jones died in 2011, she left behind the nearly completed manuscript for this book — later finished by her sister, Ursula Jones — which centers on a young, late-blooming magician who finds adventure and excitement with her talking cat.
‘The Book Of Emma Reyes’ by Emma Reyes
Colombian painter Emma Reyes died in 2006, but her memoir, which contains letters from the artist, was just published in English in 2017.
‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen
One of Pride & Prejudice author Jane Austen’s less-known works, Persuasion centers on Anne Elliot, a young woman from a money-troubled family, who discovers that her former fiancé — whose engagement she broke because of his less-than-ideal financial status — has become a wealthy man.
‘Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?’ by Kathleen Collins
Compiled by the author’s daughter nearly 30 years after her mother’s death, this posthumously published collection of short fiction contains brilliant and poignant stories of black women in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.
‘Evening in Paradise’ by Lucia Berlin
The second posthumous collection from short-story writer Lucia Berlin, Evening in Paradise contains 22 more short stories by the A Manual for Cleaning Women author. Pick this one up if you want a good, fun, and gritty story.
‘Delta of Venus’ by Anaïs Nin
This collection of erotic fiction commissioned by a patron known as “the Collector” finally received mainstream publication in 1977 — the same year its author, Anaïs Nin, passed away.
‘My Life, My Love, My Legacy’ by Coretta Scott King
Published more than 10 years after the author’s death, My Life, My Love, My Legacy traces Coretta Scott King’s life, from her humble beginnings in Alabama to fighting for racial equality in the U.S. and abroad.
‘A Winter Book’ by Tove Jansson
Moomintroll creator Tove Jansson also wrote novels and stories for adults. This short-fiction collection contains 20 of her stories, many of which had not been previously published in English.
‘Scarlet Song’ by Mariama Bâ
Senegalese feminist Mariama Bâ is best known for her first novel, So Long a Letter, but this book, published five years after her death in 1981 at the age of 52, is worth your time as well. The story here centers on a cross-cultural couple — the European Mireille and the African Ousmane — who encounter difficulties in their marriage.
‘I’ll Be Gone in the Dark’ by Michelle McNamara
Michelle McNamara’s work of investigative true-crime, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, chronicles the crimes of the Golden State Killer. A suspect in the case was arrested shortly after the publication of this book.
‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Accepted for publication, but not fully revised before Mary Ann Shaffer’s death in 2008, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was polished for publishing by her niece, Annie Barrows. The story concerns an author, Juliet, who, while promoting her latest book, wishes to retire her penname and publish under her own moniker.
‘The Complete Stories’ by Clarice Lispector
Containing three never-before-seen stories from celebrated Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, The Complete Stories holds 89 tales about girls and women at all stages of life, and you’re going to want to read them all.
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