"To my executors"

Witnessing the furor over posthumously published books by Ernest Hemingway and Ralph Ellison, a novelist engineers his own literary legacy.

By Ken Kalfus
Published August 20, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
main article image

August 20, 1999

1. The Big Book: If you look in the upstairs closet, behind where the storm windows are kept, you'll find a large Hefty bag, stuffed with about 4,000 sheets of paper. Some are blank, but many others contain unconnected fragments of prose. All my life I struggled to beach this whale of a novel, which dramatizes the universal themes of loss and redemption in a distinctly radical way, but I was never satisfied with the characters, the plot, the setting or the point of view. Please tie together the most successful sections with whatever literary devices you find appropriate, adding story developments and protagonists only where strictly necessary, and publish. Set aside the extraneous material for future scholarship; relentlessly prohibit direct quotation.


2. Memoirs: I kept a journal every day of my adult life, through all these years of literary struggle and adventure. Regardless of whether I spent the day staring out the window or in line at the post office, I would turn every evening to my notebook and record my thoughts. The journal consists mostly of one-word summaries of the weather and what I had for dinner; an industrious redactor will integrate them with daily newspaper reports to create a portrait of a man and his times. I've deposited the 184 marbled composition books in the vault of a Swiss bank with an impossible-to-remember name. I seem also to have misplaced the account number. You can ask the Swiss government for help.

3. Screenplay: Although I've been interested in cinema my entire life, originating some provocative ideas about the interplay of form and shadow, I never got around to writing a screenplay. Perhaps this had to do with my principled distaste for Hollywood. In any event, I've composed a few notes for a film treatment on a file card, which I put in a steel strongbox and tossed in the poured cement of the foundation for the 88-story Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The public may be ready for it now, especially if the cast includes Tom Hanks and Nicole Kidman. Please recover and develop, and ensure that the director (a hot indie?) films the gunplay, knife fights and explosions in a thoughtful, balletic style. The Motion Picture Association of America may wish to devise a special rating to allow the widest possible audience.

4. The Collected Correspondence: I was never much of a letter-writer, but in the course of a long and varied literary life, I've left a lot of messages for people, mostly on their answering machines. Place a query in the New York Review of Books; certainly many of these answering machine tapes have been saved and my messages can be retrieved from them. Don't edit the messages -- please! I want posterity to "hear" me as I was. Also, although I never sent any personal e-mails, I did forward several "You Know You're Getting Old ..." lists to my friends. Check my hard drive and subpoena theirs: Publication of the jokes that I found humorous will provide insight into the more fey aspects of my character.


5. My Baseball Scorecards: Momentarily forgetting their terrestrial significance, I allowed these to be launched out of the solar system on board the Voyager 2 spacecraft. Recover them and you will find a fastidiously compiled record of every baseball game I ever attended. Most of these games seem to be 6-2 drubbings of the Mets. I suggest a facsimile edition with commentary on the games by, say, J.D. Salinger. By the way, the score-keeping notation is entirely my own invention, but I'm sure some semiotician (Eco?) will look forward to the challenge of its exegesis for the ordinary reader who may or may not be a baseball fan.

6. Juvenilia: There's loads of this stuff -- poems, limericks, school compositions, my summer camp newspaper (annotate! annotate!) -- mostly in a Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink box in my parents' basement, near the oil heater. A label, written in a 9-year-old's scrawl, reads, "Juvenilia," so it should be easy to find. Publish these pieces one at a time (with the suggestion that they've just been discovered) before bringing them out in a bound volume. The Library of America?

Ken Kalfus

Ken Kalfus' collection "Thirst" was chosen as one of Salon's 10 favorite books of 1999. His new book, "Pu-239 and Other Russian Fantasies" will be published in September.

MORE FROM Ken Kalfus

Related Topics ------------------------------------------