Literary Rediscoveries of 2016

About this time last year, I brought you a list of previously-unknown or lost works that were found/published in 2015. With such geniuses as Dylan Thomas, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charlotte Brontë on that list, I was afraid this year’s installment would seem a little lackluster by comparison.

No danger of that.

So, in the order that these pieces were found or published, here are 13 old works that the world got a new look at in 2016.

1: “New York to San Fran” (et. al.) by Allen Ginsberg

This poem, published for the first time in the February 2016 issue of Poetry magazine, is taken from a new Ginsberg collection titled Wait till I’m Dead: Uncollected Poems. It’s actually just one of over 100 of Ginsberg’s poems that, over the years, either were lost or never published in the first place, and are now seeing the light of day once more thanks to this collection.

2 & 3: “The Shadow Man” and “Noel” by J. R. R. Tolkien

For the second year in a row, Tolkien makes it onto the “Rediscovered Works” list, this time with a pair of poems published in a school magazine in 1936. (It appears the initial discovery was actually made in 2013 by Tolkien scholars Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull, but for some reason, the press didn’t catch wind of it until February of this year.) Of these two poems, only “The Shadow Man,” an early version of what would later become the poem “Shadow-Bride,” was previously known to exist. “Noel,” a retelling of the story of Christ’s birth, was a completely unexpected find, even to the Tolkien experts. No word yet on when or where these poems will be reprinted, but for now, you can read “The Shadow Man” here.

4: Recordings of Robert Frost reading his poetry

Frost in or around 1910.

In March of this year, PennSound, the University of Pennsylvania’s online archive for poetry recordings by poets, announced the release of twenty-one unpublished recordings of Frost’s poetry. The recordings were made at Columbia University between 1933 and 1934 and include, among other poems, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Birches,” “Mending Wall,” and “On the Heart’s Beginning to Cloud the Mind,” which Frost composed in place of an acceptance speech after he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.

5: A letter Walt Whitman wrote for a Union soldier

This isn’t so much a “literary work,” but it provides an interesting glimpse into Whitman’s life: during the Civil War, Whitman was known to visit Union army hospitals, where he would hand out food and sometimes money to the patients. He also wrote letters for those who were too badly hurt to do it themselves, or, in the case of this letter, for those who were illiterate. This previously-unknown letter, discovered in the National Archives by a volunteer archivist, was written for a Private Robert Jabo to send to his wife and six children. A brief P.S. at the end mentions that the letter was written by Whitman, and several Whitman experts have authenticated the handwriting. It’s the real deal!

6: Aeneid, Book VI translated by Seamus Heaney

For years, Heaney, a lifelong lover of Latin poetry, had been planning to translate the sixth book of Virgil’s Aeneid and publish it as a standalone work. He even had a finished manuscript of the translation ready for his editor when he died suddenly in 2013. That manuscript was then discovered in 2015 on one of Heaney’s old computers by his daughter Catherine, who published it in March of this year. This story becomes even more amazing and slightly eerie when you find out that Book VI of the Aeneid is about Aeneas going to the underworld to speak with his dead father.

7: Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda by Pablo Neruda (translated by Forrest Gander)

On the same day that Heaney’s Aeneid translation was published in the US, we also got this book of poems by the great Chilean master, including twenty poems being published for the first time in English. It seems that some archivists at the Pablo Neruda Foundation in Chile discovered these poems while sorting some of the late author’s papers. The non-profit publisher Copper Canyon Press then went to Kickstarter to raise the necessary $50,000 to get this book in print, where they raised more than twice that amount.

8: “Seven People Dancing” by Langston Hughes

Hughes in 1936. Photo by Carl van Vechten.
Hughes in 1936. Photo by Carl van Vechten.

This short story, written around 1961 and never published, was found in Yale University’s collection of Hughes’s papers by Arnold Rampersand, Hughes’s biographer. Hughes was experimenting with modernist prose in the sixties and this story is one such experiment. The story was published in the June 6 issue of The New Yorker, but you can also read it here at The New Yorker‘s website.

9: The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter

This story, concerning a little black cat who likes sling her shotgun over her shoulder and go hunting, was first written around 1914. 100 years later in 2014, a reference to the story in some of Beatrix Potter’s letters led Jo Hanks, the children’s editor at Penguin Random House, to go looking through the archive of Potter’s papers at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she found three drafts of this story. The finished book, illustrated by Quentin Blake, was published this September.

Wells, in an undated photograph.

10: “The Haunted Ceiling” by H. G. Wells

Remember Andrew Gulli? The magazine editor who, last year, found and published a previously-unseen short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald? He and his magazine The Strand are back again, this time with an unpublished short story by the science fiction master H. G. Wells. “The Haunted Ceiling,” the story of a man whose study is haunted by a young woman’s ghost, was discovered at the University of Illinois, which hosts a huge archive of Wells’s papers. The story was published in the October-January issue of The Strand.

11: “Poem” by A. A. Milne

Though today he’s known almost exclusively as the author of the wonderful Winnie-the-Pooh books, Milne wrote across multiple genres, including drama, crime fiction, and poetry. This particular poem was written in 1918 to be read at a fundraiser for the Tank Corps Prisoners of War Fund. Appropriately, it’s a propaganda piece extolling the virtues of Britain’s brand new tanks and their role in the First World War.

12: The oldest known audiobook, Joseph Conrad’s “Typhoon”

Conrad in 1916.

Recorded by England’s Royal National Institute for Blind People in about 1935, this set of four shellac discs is believed to be the oldest full-length audiobook in existence. Its discovery was announced in November by Matthew Rubery, a literature professor at London’s Queen Mary University. Rubery was researching the history of audiobooks when he was contacted by a record collector in Canada saying he had acquired a copy of the “Typhoon” audiobook. Shellac records are infamously delicate, so it’s amazing that the entire set has survived this long. You can also listen to a portion of this long-lost book here.

13: A lot of documents belonging to a lot of authors

In 2014, Mary Innes-Kerr, Duchess of Roxburghe, passed away, leaving the enormous library she inherited from her father to Cambridge University’s Trinity College. Besides gaining more than 7,000 new books, the university also received a cache of letters and other papers belong to famous authors that the Duchess’s father and grandfather had collected over the years, many of them previously unknown. I haven’t been able to find the full list of goodies yet, but the BBC reports that among the papers Duchess Roxburghe owned were a letter from Charles Dickens (squirreled away in a first edition copy of Hard Times), a copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray with an inscription from Wilde, and a letter that Henry James wrote to the duchess’s grandfather, in response to a fan letter he wrote to him. So, all in all, a pretty impressive lot.

Let me know in the comments if I missed anything and Happy New Year!

All images are from Wikimedia Commons.

4 thoughts on “Literary Rediscoveries of 2016

  1. Fascinating post – thank you! It always amazes me that stuff turns up so long after authors’s deaths – last year I read Maeve Brennan’s The Visitor which apparently turned up a few years ago in a University archive. It was pretty much ready for publication, and left me wondering why she’d never tried to have it published during her lifetime.


    1. Yes, at least two of the unpublished works on here (the stories by Langston Hughes and H. G. Wells) were all finished, and yet their authors never tried to publish them. Don’t know why.

      Liked by 1 person

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