Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Biographers Suffer Privacy Decision
James Campbell writes a fascinating piece about the impact of a court decision in New York regarding writer Richard Wright's correspondence which ruled that a writer's letters are property of the writer (not the recipient) and are considered private because they were never meant for publication. In the aftermath of this decision, biographers of writers in particular are suffering.
In some cases, authors come to an agreement with the author's relative or estate, but Campbell was unable to reach an agreement with James Baldwin's sister and she refused permission to reprint any of his letters. Unfortunately his manuscript was written and quoted extensively from Baldwin's letters. "I was forced to extract the quotations from the text and liquefy them, so that they blended with my own prose. Baldwin's aphoristic sayings, his frantic and often funny accounts of his quarrels and complexes, his money worries and lovelorn complaints, all had to be told in my words, not his.

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