Edward Albee Left a Controversial Final Wish

Playwright's will instructs executors to destroy all his unfinished manuscripts
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2017 8:49 AM CDT
Edward Albee's Mandate for Unfinished Work: Destroy It
Edward Albee, in April 2012.   (AP Photo/Point Honors New York, Brian Ach, file)

When Franz Kafka died, he left instructions for his friend Max Brod to incinerate any incomplete works—a request Brod ignored, which led to the publishing of The Castle and The Trial, among other writings. Edward Albee also wanted to avoid such posthumous publications, and the New York Times reports that the Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? playwright, who died in September at age 88, left directions for two friends to decimate any unfinished manuscripts. Those executors, designer William Katz and accountant Arnold Toren, were named in a will Albee signed in 2012 and filed in a Suffolk County court on Long Island. There's even an umbrella term this kind of scrubbing falls under: "dead hand control," which allows the deceased to still wield some say from beyond the grave by essentially "gifting" certain assets or property, but with conditions set upon the beneficiaries.

"Am I disappointed? Yes, because every tiny bit of everything that a writer has written provides insight into that writer's creative process," the Edward Albee Society president laments to the Times. Estate law and intellectual property experts, meanwhile, cite the "moral and legal quandary" such a demand imposes, with executors forced to decide between the deceased's wishes and the greater societal good. But others support Albee's right to keep his scribblings forever secret, with fellow playwright Doug Wright noting that drafts can be "sensitive" items for writers and that, as authors' private property, they have the right to do as they please. "It's no more our business than it would have been if [Albee] had made a little bonfire of his work before his death," says the Yale School of Drama's dean. Mental Floss lists other writers who wanted their work destroyed upon their demise. (More authors stories.)

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