The New Yorker's Dead Authors Society

Slate's Culture Blog
March 18 2011 9:39 AM

The New Yorker's Dead Authors Society

David Foster Wallace devotees were delighted last week when the New Yorker published " Backbone ," an excerpt from the writer's forthcoming novel The Pale King . The story, about a boy determined to "press his lips to every square inch of his own body," is one of three Wallace pieces to have appeared in The New Yorker since the author's 2008 suicide. This puts Wallace in a small, rarefied company: Authors so accomplished that they continue to publish in the country's most prestigious magazine well after they've shuffled off this mortal coil.


Deborah Treisman, fiction editor at the New Yorker , describes the posthumous editing process as "frustrating," but said that her familiarity with Wallace as a New Yorker contributor during his lifetime gave her "a sense of the kind of edits" he might have wanted. When editing the works of deceased authors with whom she was never acquainted, however, she feels compelled to be more cautious.


Treisman guesses that the authors with the highest number of posthumous New Yorker bylines are Vladimir Nabokov, David Foster Wallace, Roberto Bolaño, and Janet Frame (New Zealand's foremost novelist and poet, who died in 2004). Each of these literary titans left behind significant amounts of unpublished material when they died—and in the cases of Bolaño and Nabokov, much of that work was translated into English only after they'd passed away.

Here are our top selections by the New Yorker 's most popular dead authors. Did we skip your favorite posthumously published story? Let us know in the comments section.

Roberto Bolaño (died 2003)— eight stories

" Prefiguration of Lalo Cura ," April 19, 2010: The fictional memoir of Lalo Cura, the son of a porn star.

Vladimir Nabokov (died 1977)— six stories

" Natasha, " June 9, 2008: Natasha becomes romantically entangled with her neighbor, a pathological liar who fabricates travel tales.

David Foster Wallace (died 2008)— three stories

" All That ," Dec 14, 2009: A man investigates the origins of his ecstatic piety.  He attributes his feelings of reverence to bizarre events from his childhood.

Janet Frame (died 2004)— three stories

" Gorse Is Not People ," Sept 1, 2008: A dwarf's attempts to escape from the mental hospital.

Photograph of David Foster Wallace courtesy of Wikipedia

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