Brow Beat

Harper Lee Is Finally Releasing Her First Novel Since To Kill a Mockingbird. Why Now?

Harper Lee in 2007.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A new novel by To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee will come out on July 14, the publisher Harper announced on Tuesday. Titled Go Set a Watchman, it reads as a sequel to Mockingbird, chronicling the adult Scout’s return to her childhood home in Maycomb, Alabama, during the flowering of the 1950s Civil Rights movement. Lee began work on Watchman before starting the Pulitzer Prize–winning Mockingbird, until now the famously reticent author’s only novel. This will be her first publication in 50 years, after a slew of biographies attempting to shed light on her life and work. (Lee, 88, in poor health and reportedly losing her sight and hearing, apparently denounced the latest tell-all effort, The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills, as “unauthorized.”) Said Lee in a statement issued by Harper:

In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman. 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.

The 304-page Watchman will be published in its long-forgotten original version, without any revisions, reports the Associated Press. Financial terms were not disclosed. While those who loved To Kill A Mockingbird should be thrilled that Lee has finally escaped her own shadow—“When you’re at the top there’s only one way to go,” the author told her cousin, as an explanation for why she stopped writing after her first published book earned such a stellar reception—there is a shadier interpretation of events here. As questions are raised about an increasingly incapacitated woman’s control over her own legacy (in 2007, for instance, Lee charged her agent with stealing her royalties from the 1960 classic), it does seem like a strange coincidence that she suddenly, now, after half a century, decides to release her second title.

And yet, and yet. A new Harper Lee novel! May the Atticus Finch in our souls help us fashion our feelings into the right and appropriate response.