Controversy Surrounds Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Sequel


After the release of her book, To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee, overwhelmed by the publicity which surrounded the instant-classic story, intentionally faded into the background. Even as readers throughout the years pleaded for another novel by the first-time published author, she remained a recluse – until now. According to an announcement made by her publisher Tuesday, a second novel by Lee, 88, is scheduled for release in July. Given the author’s advanced age and her lifelong devotion to remaining in the shadows, there is controversy regarding the author’s approval, offered only in a written statement, of the publication of the sequel.

The new book, titled Go Set a Watchman, was written in the middle of the 50s and coincided with the rise of the civil rights movement. The recently rediscovered novel, which is 304 pages long, is set two decades after To Kill a Mockingbird, but was written first. The new novel takes place in Maycomb, Ala., which is the same fictional town in which To Kill a Mockingbird was set, and details what happens when To Kill a Mockingbird’s child narrator, Scout Finch, now an adult living in New York, returns to visit her father, Atticus.

In a statement given by Lee and released by her publisher, after writing Go Set a Watchman and submitting it to her editor in 1957, the editor told her that he really liked the childhood flashbacks of Scout as written in the novel and instructed her to pen a different book with Scout as the narrator. In the statement, Lee, who was 34 at the time, says that she “was a first-time writer” and “did as [she] was told.”

Doing what she was told resulted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Since its 1960 publication, it has sold over 40 million copies worldwide in over 40 different languages. To this day, the book continues to sell over one million copies each year. Considered to be a masterpiece of American literature, the novel, which centers around the Finch family’s involvement in the trial of a black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman, is required reading for most students in the United States due to its themes of racial injustice and prejudice married with the maturation of a young girl and love.

The native of Monroeville, Ala., chose to live a quiet life away from readers and literary scholars and, since the 60s, has given very few interviews. After suffering a stroke in 2007, Lee moved to an assisted living facility. Her first novel, Go Set a Watchman, languished in an unknown location while Lee believed it to have been lost forever. The typewritten manuscript was discovered last fall by the attorney and friend of Lee, Tonja Carter, who found it in what Lee characterizes as “a secure location,” affixed to an original draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.

According to the statement, the author was unsure of the novel’s worth, but says that “after much thought and hesitation,” she gave it to several people in her trusted circle, who assured her that the book was indeed fit to publish. Lee says the publication of the novel decades after she wrote it leaves her “humbled and amazed.”

Because of her wish to live a reclusive life, there are questions as to whether Lee is truly a willing participant in the publishing of her first novel, especially since her sister, who acted as companion and protector for her, recently passed away. Added to the skepticism is that the publisher of the book, Harper, has communicated only with the author’s agent and lawyer, including the statement which they released Tuesday and attributed to Lee. Harper’s senior vice president, Jonathan Burnham, who also acts as their publisher, says that he is “completely confident” that Lee approves of and understands the publication of her first novel, even though he never spoke directly to her.

Go Set a Watchman is set to be released on July 14 by Harper. Two million copies of the novel will be printed initially. Neither Lee’s lawyer nor her agent responded to requests for interviews Tuesday.

By Jennifer Pfalz

The New York Times
NBC News

Featured photo by Chuck Miller – Flickr License

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