It is every author’s dream to leave a literary legacy. There were many authors who were unknown or had little fame when they were alive but they became household names after achieving posthumous success. From Emily Dickinson to Franz Kafka here is a list of the authors who garnered posthumous fame.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Emily Dickinson is one of the greatest poets but it wasn’t until she died in 1886. Dickinson wrote approximately two thousand poems and only a dozen got published during her lifetime. The published poems however were heavily edited due to her excessive and unusual use of capitalization and unconventional use of punctuations. Many of the poems from her later life dealed with the themes of nature, death and immortality. Dickinson died at age of 55 from kidney failure. Before her death she had instructed her sister, Lavinia to burn all of her remaining correspondence. However, as no such instruction was given regarding her poems, Lavinia decided to get them published. The first collection of Dickinson’s poems was published four years after her death. Until, 1955 all her poems were altered by the editors. In 1955, Thomas H. Johnson published unaltered, complete and correct collection of Dickinson’s poems from their manuscript form.

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

Henry David Thoreau is recognized as one of the greatest authors America has ever produced. He studied at Harvard in classics, philosophy and science. He was deeply influenced by the essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson and he then decided to live in the woods as close to nature as possible and record his experiences. This two year experiment of living in nature gave the literary world one his great works, ‘Walden; or Life In The Woods.’ In his life, Thoreau self-published his essays and books but unfortunately only a few of them were sold. In 1860, Thoreau caught bronchitis and his health started to rapidly decline. He passed away two years later in 1862. His popular works such as, ‘Civil Disobedience’, ‘Walking’ and ‘Life Without Principle’ late became best seller and inspired Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy and many great writers and thinkers of later generations.

Herman Melville (1819 – 1891)

Herman Melville is one of the most significant authors from mid 19th century. Everyone knows about the mad Captain Ahab and the great white whale, even the people who have not read the classic Moby Dick. But this classic novel was neglected for 50 years since its publication in 1851. Melville spent most of his twenties travelling by the sea. He wrote the books which is based on fictionalized accounts of his voyages. This novel was published in 1845 and it was a success. He followed the novel with another novel titled, Omoo. Although Melville’s early works were successful, he wanted to write more serious and experimental books like Nathaniel Hawthorne (author of The Scarlet Letter) who he was familiar with. He then wrote Moby Dick as his first experimental novel Moby Dick and dedicated it to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Published in 1851, Moby Dick was a major failure. After this, for many years the literary world completely forgot about Herman Melville until 1919, when the so-called ‘Melville Revival’ happened in the western world. Many literary and authors started promoting Melville’s work and sing praises of his spectacular novel Moby Dick.

Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924)

Franz Kafka is a literary genius, who was not renowned until he died from starvation due to harmful side-effects from tuberculosis in 1924. Kafka had published few of his works when he was alive but he had many unpublished manuscripts. He had instructed his friend Max Brod to burn all his manuscripts after he died just like Emily Dickinson. However, Max Brod completely ignored Kafka’s dying wish and published his friend’s works which made Kafka posthumously famous. Kafka has written many literary classics that include, ‘The Trial’, ‘The Castle’ and ‘The Metamorphosis’ among others. Kafka became best seller and influenced many great writers like Albert Camus, Gabriel García Márquez, Jean-Paul Sartre and many others. There is a term in the English language that is derived from his name, Kafkaesque, which is used to describe situations that are bewilderingly and illogically complex in a surreal or nightmarish way just like Franz Kafka’s fictional world.

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

Sylvia Plath’s life is yet another tragic literary story of what could have been. Plath was clinically depressed throughout her adult life. She produced many works and often published them but she was relatively unknown. She published a semi-autobiographic book, ‘The Bell Jar’ in 1963 under the pen name Victoria Lucas. Just a month after the publication of her book, Plath committed suicide. She wrote a note to her downstairs neighbour instructing him to call the doctor, then she committed suicide by placing her head in the gas oven in her apartment. After this she and her work garnered some attention. In 1971 The Bell Jar was published under own name. Nearly 20 years after she died her husband published a collection of her work titled ‘ The Collected Poems’. This book became best seller after she died and received Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1982. Her second collection of poetry, ‘Ariel’ published posthumously in 1965 is considered a testament of her immense talent.

Stieg Larsson (1954 – 2004)

Stieg Larsson was a journalist in Sweden. He died at the age of 50 due to heart attack after climbing seven flights of stairs to his office because the elevator was not working. Stieg Larsson is the author of the crime fiction books, The Millennium Trilogy: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. Larsson began writing this series in the evening after his day-job for pleasure. Before his death Larsson had never written a novel before starting his now famous Millennium Trilogy. Four years after his death Stieg Larsson became the second best-selling author in the world and his books became second best seller, behind Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner).                    

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)

Poe achieved some success before his death but it is nothing compared to his success today. Poe was a poster boy for the financially struggling authors. He was one of the authors who tried to write as a full time profession which led to his impoverished living conditions. Poe lived in poverty and died poverty. Poe had published his work frequently but no one seemed to appreciate it, until after he was found lying on a street in Baltimore in distress. He died four days after that in 1849. Poe is a master of macabre writing and his books became best seller only after he died.

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