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Harper Lee to publish Mockingbird sequel

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Fifty-five years ago, Harper Lee published her hugely successful first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, inspire an Oscar-award winning movie, sell 40 million copies, and become an American classic.

Now, a follow-up book written by the now 88-year-old author entitled Go Set a Watchman will be released in July.

The 304-page book is set 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird and features an adult Scout living in New York City returning to Maycomb to visit Atticus, her father.

According to a statement released by the publisher, Go Set a Watchman, titled after a Bible verse, involves Scout being “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… her childhood.”

Although its events make it a sequel to Mockingbird, the second novel was actually written first, in the mid-1950s. In a statement released by her publisher, Lee said her editor was “taken” by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood when he first read Watchman, and persuaded her to write a new novel from the point of view of young Scout.

“I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told,” Lee said.

It was revealed February 5 that Mockingbird was originally intended to be the first of a three-book series that would have included Watchman, according to Andrew Nurnberg, Lee’s foreign-rights agent. The original plan was to release Mockingbird first, then a connecting novel, which apparently never was written, and then Watchman.

This is a remarkable event. Watchman…is an extraordinary gift.”

— Jonathon Burnham, senior vice-president, HarperCollins

The success of Mockingbird, Lee’s first effort, was overwhelming. The novel’s story of young Scout, her brother Jem, father Atticus and mysterious neighbor Boo dealing with a highly controversial, racially driven trial in the 1930s South is now frequently read in classrooms across America.

Harper Lee did not publish another fiction piece after Mockingbird, despite extreme demand from fans and critics alike. In 1964, in her last major piece of publicity, Lee said she did not expect the book to sell in the first place and that the reaction to her book was “just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected…like being hit over the head and knocked cold.”

Tonja Carter, Lee’s attorney, discovered the manuscript of Watchman attached to an original typescript of Mockingbird three months ago. She then negotiated a deal with HarperCollins to publish.

Harper Lee now lives in an assisted-living facility in Monroeville, the small Alabama town where she grew up.  She has no children, and her sister, Alice, who died last November, protected her financial interests. Carter was given power of attorney over Lee. There has been some controversy over whether or not Lee is capable of making legal financial decisions because of her health.

Jonathon Burnham, the senior vice-president of HarperCollins, denied these allegations.

“Harper Lee was delighted to learn of the discovery of the manuscript of Watchman, and – as her statement in the press release attests – is very happy to see this novel published,” Burnham said.

Nurnberg also dismissed claims of manipulation, releasing a new quote from Lee saying she is “alive and kicking and happy.”

Given that this novel is Lee’s first literary event in over 50 years, it caused quite a stir in the literary community. “This is a remarkable event,” Burnham said in a statement. “The existence of Watchman was unknown until recently, and its discovery is an extraordinary gift.”

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