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THE PROMPT: Should An Artist’s Work Be Released Posthumously?
September 21, 2011
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Shel Silverstein, who died in 1999, had a new book of poetry released yesterday called Every Thing On It. The author, cartoonist, poet, playwright and songwriter is perhaps most well-known for the bestselling books The Giving Tree and Where The Sidewalk Ends, as well as for writing the Grammy-winning Johnny Cash classic "A Boy Named Sue".

Silverstein was obviously a creative polymath, but he was also a perfectionist. Toni Markiet, editor of the new book that bears Silverstein's name, said to NPR of Silverstein's creative process: "He would move a piece of art over an 18th of an inch ... and look at how it looked on a page ... It's a slight adjustment, but to him, it mattered. I think one of the reasons his books are still so immensely popular after almost 50 years is that every tiny detail was considered."

Every Thing On It consists of 145 previously unpublished Shel Silverstein poems. Selected by his family members, and arranged into book form by Markiet and the family in an attempt to emulate Silverstein's exacting pace, balance and style, it's a collection of works that Silverstein chose not to publish while he was alive.

With that in mind, we're wondering: Should an artist's work be released posthumously? Does the creator's decision to not release certain pieces during their lifetime mean their estate should respect that decision, or do loyal fans of a creative individual deserve to have access to everything that person created? Are there special cases where it's appropriate to release work posthumously, or is it always just a cash grab? Will this new collection of Shel Silverstein's work hold up against his the best of his output, or will it disappoint?

Let us know.

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