If you’ve been paying even tangential attention to the book industry over the past two – three years you’ll have noticed the slew of “found” manuscripts coming to light. From short stories to haphazard pages and half-finished drafts, the book world seemed to be experiencing a period of unprecedented “discovery” of “lost” unpublished works from well-known authors. The most famous of these instances was the controversy-doused Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman but the trend even continued into the children’s book sector with the release of a new Dr. Seuss book last July.
In what some view as a continuation of this theme, Simon & Schuster imprint Scribner recently announced the April 2017 release of the last collection of unpublished stories from F. Scott Fitzgerald. The title itself, I’d Die For You And Other Lost Stories, seems to be a deliberate attempt to capitalize on this trend and push related profits and buzz despite being a known gambit.
These stories were never lost, missing, or unknown as Sarah Churchwell of The Guardian notes. They’ve been safely preserved at Princeton University among Fitzgerald’s other papers and writings awaiting this moment. Fitzgerald himself submitted them for publication during his lifetime, only failing to achieve publication due to their content and dark subject matter. Fitzgerald’s agent attributed five magazines’ rejection of the titular story to difficulty with “the threat of suicide all the way through.”
The practice of delaying release of a deceased well-known author’s work always raises questions but this collection in particular calls for reflection on the specific question of why now? As cultural gatekeepers, publishers have always toed the line of outright profit seeking and dissemination of important words. This release comes across as Scribner
believing it has found a sweet spot in the middle of that line with the benefit of years of sales to validate Fitzgerald’s firmly established cultural and literary importance from beyond the grave. A closer viewing of the imprint’s position, however, indicates a leaning toward one side of that line: the dollar sign. Why hold onto these stories (known to be finished, in existence, and preserved) for so long a period after the culture evolved past one that would shy away from darker works, if not to generate a profit? Why wait if not to determine the most advantageous moment for publishing the last collection of “lost” work? And what better moment to publish than after you have both watched the success of other found manuscripts and waited out that period of noise? Now, in the normal cycle of releases, Scribner can take Fitzgerald’s moment in the sun for itself.
(Sources linked / cited throughout text.)