Harper Lee To Release New Book, Sequel To ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’

Atticus Finch

Harper Lee, who became an international sensation with the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird, which itself was turned into one of the greatest movies ever made, is coming out with a new book after fifty long years of relative silence:

“To Kill a Mockingbird” will not be Harper Lee’s only published book after all.

Publisher Harper announced Tuesday that “Go Set a Watchman,” a novel the Pulitzer Prize-winning author completed in the 1950s and put aside, will be released July 14. Rediscovered last fall, “Go Set a Watchman” is essentially a sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” although it was finished earlier. The 304-page book will be Lee’s second, and the first new work in more than 50 years.

The publisher plans a first printing of 2 million copies.

“In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called ‘Go Set a Watchman,'” the 88-year-old Lee said in a statement issued by Harper. “It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’) from the point of view of the young Scout.

“I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn’t realized it (the original book) had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

Financial terms were not disclosed. The deal was negotiated between Carter and the head of Harper’s parent company, Michael Morrison of HarperCollins Publishers. “Watchman” will be published in the United Kingdom by William Heinemann, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

According to publisher Harper, Carter came upon the manuscript at a “secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.'” The new book is set in Lee’s famed Maycomb, Alabama, during the mid-1950s, 20 years after “To Kill a Mockingbird” and roughly contemporaneous with the time that Lee was writing the story. The civil rights movement was taking hold by the time she was working on “Watchman.” The Supreme Court had ruled unanimously in 1953 that segregated schools were unconstitutional, and the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 led to the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott.

“Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus,” the publisher’s announcement reads. “She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.”

(…)

“This is a remarkable literary event,” Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham said in a statement. “The existence of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was unknown until recently, and its discovery is an extraordinary gift to the many readers and fans of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Reading in many ways like a sequel to Harper Lee’s classic novel, it is a compelling and ultimately moving narrative about a father and a daughter’s relationship, and the life of a small Alabama town living through the racial tensions of the 1950s.”

The new book also will be available in an electronic edition. Lee has openly started her preference for paper, but surprised fans last year by agreeing to allow “Mockingbird” to be released as an e-book.

Given the widespread appeal of Lee’s first book, this new book will no doubt be met with much anticipation, especially since it will apparently include many of the same characters who will we will now see dealing with the explosive issues surrounding the Civil Rights era, and the fact that it was written largely contemporaneously as those events were occurring should make Lee’s perspective something worth reading. Lee’s original work ranks as one of the great works of American literature, and while it’s not reasonable to expect lightening to strike twice, one could hope that this book will prove to be as enlightening as her original work was. It’s a good thing that it was found, and that she’s willing to share it with us.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I’d be shocked if the advance is any less than three million. Probably a lot more. HarperCollins may suck at supporting their books but they pay better than just about anyone. (Yes, I’m with Harper.)

  2. Hopefully she had a better agent this time.

  3. Scott says:

    I hope it is good and that it doesn’t get published before a good editor cleans it up. Probably won’t match the hype. Butthen, what could.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    As a bit of humor, Berkeley Breathed did a great comic strip on the idea of a sequel for To Kill a Mockingbird about 20 years ago.

    http://www.cartoonistgroup.com/properties/outland/art_images/cg5347049ba5ba1.jpg

  5. CSK says:

    There’s something about this story that doesn’t quite ring true. Lee wrote this book apparently at the behest of her editor–and then set it aside and it disappeared? She didn’t know what happened to it?

    I know editors, and Lee’s would have been hounding her for the requested sequel.

    How could Lee not know her book had survived?

  6. I actually didn’t know Harper Lee was still alive…

  7. @CSK:

    No she wrote this book first but it was the flashback scenes involving Scout that prompted her editor back then to persuade her to write Mockingbird, and that’s the book that ended up being published.

  8. CSK says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Ah, okay, thank you. I misunderstood. But even so, I’ve never heard of a writer losing track of a book this way. And, given the success of TKAM, her editor would have been after her to produce a sequel.

  9. Slugger says:

    In my dotage, I have reread a lot of books that I read when young, and It is interesting to me how my viewpoint has changed. Huck Finn has improved, Dickens is melodrama with little merit, Moby Dick is very exciting even the cetology bits, and Steinbeck is too preachy. I did not care for Mockingbird which I read when I was seventeen. The moral dilemma was too pat and Atticus was too one-dimensionally pure. I understand that it was from Scout’s point of view, but the whole thing was too lacking in depth. Did I miss something?

  10. Gustopher says:

    She’s just trying to cash in on all the Hunger Games: Mockingjay hype.

  11. Is Harper Lee a patriarchal rape apologist? It’s a story about a defense attorney who tries to get a man acquitted of rape by putting the victim on trial.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    The really important question is: who’s got the rights? Who is our next Gregory Peck in the wings? And please, God, let there be a South Park version in the fullness of time.

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    I read an article not 2 months ago about Harper Lee’s reclusivity, and the role her sister (and lawyer) played in keeping her privacy secure. The article came out upon the death of her sister, and raised questions about her whether her new lawyer had her best interests in mind. I wish I could find that article now.

    Jezebel had the same thoughts.

    An interesting read: http://jezebel.com/be-suspicious-of-the-new-harper-lee-novel-1683488258

  14. Tyrell says:

    Strange indeed, after all these years.

  15. CSK says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Thanks for the link; that was interesting. This story is getting increasingly hinky. I find it very hard to believe that Lee just abandoned the book, particularly after having written 304 pages of it. ( I can swear I read some place–not recently–that she claimed TKAM was the only book she ever wrote.) Given the success of TKAM, she must have been urged by her editor to go back and complete what would have been the sequel. And it sounds as if she did. Or perhaps someone else did. Or perhaps Lee didn’t write any of it.

    I don’t know. This makes no sense on the face of it.

  16. Mikey says:

    @Slugger: I never read it in school–didn’t read it until I was in my 40s. As far as the story, it was probably quite novel (no pun intended…) when first published, but not so much today.

    What I really liked was the writing itself. It’s hard to explain exactly what it is, maybe Lee’s way of putting a sentence together or creating a metaphor, but whatever it is made the book very enjoyable for me. There were a few times I’d get my wife’s attention and read a sentence to her because I thought it was just so wonderfully written.

  17. PD Shaw says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Bah, challenging the state’s evidence is always part of the job. Putting the accused on the stand, with the risk that he’ll say something regrettable, is like passing on 2nd and goal from the one-yard line. Well not exactly, but it seems like Atticus was playing it up for the movie rights.

  18. DrDaveT says:

    Sequel

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  19. CSK says:

    @DrDaveT:

    If this new book deals with a 20-years-older Scout Finch, and most of the other major characters from TKAM including Atticus, and is set in the same town, continuing Scout’s personal story, as it is described as doing, then it’s a sequel to the first book.

    What do you think a sequel is?

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @DrDaveT: @CSK:

    Excuse me for a moment, I believe this may require a couple of bong hits.

    . . .

    So, like, if you write a book, and then you write another book that happened before the first book, and then the first book gets published, like, later than the book even though it was written before that other book. . . What? Oh yeah: which time line rules? Is it the timeline inside the books? Or is it the timeline of the world of publishing? Or is it possible that time is just a flat circle?

    And have you ever looked at fallen leaves, man, I mean really looked?

  21. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Or is it possible that time is just a flat circle?

    It’s actually just a big blob of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff.

  22. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Heavy, man, heavy.

  23. Grumpy Realist says:

    @CSK: oh, I can believe it, especially if you move a few times. I’m trying to figure out what happened to my MA thesis, which I’d like to get published. One of E.E. “doc” Smith’s books only survived because the manuscript had been held on to by a sub-editor.

  24. CSK says:

    @Grumpy Realist:

    It happens to me. It happens to you. It even happened to Doc Smith. But it doesn’t happen to Harper Lee, or Stephen King, or any other hot commodity. In this case, though, it seems to have been Lee who forgot the manuscript existed.

  25. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @CSK: Wow! Do any of you realize how many authors–particularly authors of literature-type stuff, as opposed to pulp novels–wrote only one or two books before the advent of mass-market bookselling in the late 70s or early 80s?

    The ratio of Harper Lees to John Steinbecks from that era may be as high as 10:1–maybe higher.

  26. Pinky says:

    To paraphrase Marge Simpson: “Published in 1960. Hmm. Murdered or not, that mockingbird must be long dead. That’s kind of a downer.”

  27. michael reynolds says:

    Incidentally, I’ve actually forgotten books I’ve published. I’ve only ever had two that didn’t sell, and I usually forget both of those. I couldn’t find a manuscript of either if you put a gun to my head. No clue.

  28. CSK says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    Ah, yes. All those one-hit wonders like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, Alcott, Wharton, Cather, Hurston, Cooper, Warren, James, Dreiser, McCullers, O’Connnor, Crane, Walker, Ford, Carver, Algren, Jones…

    Pulp fiction isn’t an invention of the late 1970s. It’s been around since before Gutenberg, in one form or another. Faulkner became a successful author in part because his paperback publisher put lurid covers on his books.

    What Lee did–write one book–is extremely unusual.
    r