Willa Cather, author of “O Pioneers”, died in 1947. She purportedly destroyed much of her private correspondence and left instructions in her will forbidding the post-mortem publication of any remaining letters. For nearly 70 years, her executors adhered to her wishes. However, with the death of her nephew and second executor in 2011, her wishes are no longer being followed and a book containing 566 of the surviving 3,0000 letters will be published next month. There are various reasons given for her request to not publish the correspondence – a desire for privacy, a late life depression, and a desire to conceal her lesbianism about which scholars have speculated for years.
1. 3000 letters survived? She needed a heavy duty shredder.
2. The best way to ensure post-death privacy is to destroy the letters while alive. After a generation or two, those interested in preserving her wishes will have died and successors will be more motivated by money than her wishes.
3. In an electronic age not prone to letter writing, most people will not be confronted with this issue in the future. No one will want to read a series of texts.
4. Who needs to speculate about the sexual orientation of a woman who called herself William in college and who lived with the same woman for 39 years?
5. I did not enjoy reading her work in American Literature classes so I will not be pre-ordering the book of her letters from Amazon.