We’ve already reviewed the spate of unconventional literary autobiographies released last year, but 2011 is quickly shaping up to also be a year of fresh books by and about beloved bygone writers. Encompassing speeches, letter correspondences, essays, unpublished stories, and posthumous investigations, these upcoming books offer new insights into the intellects, imaginations, and lives of dearly departed cultural icons.
Kurt Vonnegut’s posthumous prolificacy continues with another collection of unpublished short stories. The 16 selections featured in While Mortals Sleep are drawn from Vonnegut’s early career, and illustrate his initial experimentation with themes that carried on throughout his writing — particularly a preoccupation with the relationship between technology and isolation. The collection’s foreword is written by Dave Eggers, whose own work is heavily indebted to this supposedly “hippie Mark Twain.”
Release date: January 25
Although Elizabeth Bishop kept her private life guarded from the prying scrutiny of close readers and poetry critics alike, this collection of correspondences between Bishop and her New Yorker editors reveals the former poet laureate’s critical approach to her craft. Bishop’s detailed back-and-forth with Katherine S. White and later Howard Moss can be exhaustive — “punctuation is my Waterloo,” exclaims Bishop at one point — but in the process she reveals private autobiographical gems, ranging from her artistic process to her life in Brazil.
Release date: February 1
Although Edward Gorey’s charmingly macabre illustrations and stories are recognizable features of mainstream pop culture, Gorey himself has long remained a private and enigmatic figure. Novelist Alexander Theroux’s memoir of his friendship with the late artist paints a tender portrait of Gorey the man: a thoughtful eccentric, film and ballet lover, avid collector of curios, and papier-mache puppeteer, who struggled with his sexuality and sense of place in society. This is a hardback reissue of the original from Fantagraphics.
Release date: February 11
Bruce Chatwin’s nomadic lifestyle brought him to each of the Earth’s inhabited continents — and often to their most remote corners. Although he published only five books and one essay collection in his lifetime — each of them hailed a “masterpiece” upon release — his reputation for ostentation and his affection for obscurity made him a cult-like figure both before and after his death from AIDS in 1989. Edited by Chatwin’s wife Elizabeth and his authorized biographer, Nicholas Shakespeare, this collection of letters shows the author’s evolution from 8-year-old schoolboy to husband and intellectual icon.
Release date: February 17
The anticipation over David Foster Wallace’s unfinished posthumous novel has reached a fever-pitch as its publication date looms on the horizon. Although the late author’s obsessive fans and admirers are no doubt eager to enjoy his as yet unseen work, the book will also be an interesting window into the creative process of the philosophically inclined writer — both for its rough-around-the-edges qualities and the morbid appeal of its finality.
Release date: April 15
With his writing mostly all translated for consumption in the English-speaking world, Roberto Bolaño has now become a ubiquitous fixture of the international literary scene. Taking a break from the experimental short stories and sweeping novels for which he has heretofore been synonymous, Between Parentheses presents a collection of the Chilean authors essays, articles, and speeches from 1998 until his death in 2003.
Release date: April 20
Written in 1940, partially released in 1957, and now fully published as Gertrude Stein originally intended, To Do: A Book of Alphabets and Birthdays is a complex children’s book that doesn’t have an age limit. Featuring text and accompanying illustrations, Stein’s volume offers names and verse stories to accompany each letter of the alphabet. Although this may seem like a simplistic tome, it illustrates a youthful playfulness from one of the most formidable intellects of the Lost Generation.
Release date: May 31