Before ‘Mockingbird’: Harper Lee’s forgotten novel found

SOUTHERN UTAH – Utah schoolchildren and students throughout the country have perused the pages of Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” within school walls for more than 50 years. A runaway success and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and other illustrious literary awards, the book has sold tens of millions of copies and stood as Lee’s one and only published work – until now.

HarperCollins Publishers announced Tuesday that a long-lost novel penned by Lee in the 1950s, titled “Go Set a Watchman,” has been discovered and will be published on July 14.

After “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published in 1960, Lee reportedly set aside “Go Set a Watchman” and never returned to it. The original manuscript was thought to be lost until fall 2014, when Tonja Carter, Lee’s lawyer, discovered it in “a secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,'” according to a press release from HarperCollins.

Lee wrote the book prior to penning “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “Go Set a Watchman” was actually the impetus for “Mockingbird’s” creation.

As quoted in the press release, Lee, now 88 years old, said:

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 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 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.

“Go Set a Watchman” is set during the 1950s and features many of the characters readers know and love from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” according to the press release. In the story, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch returns to Maycomb to visit her father, Atticus Finch, 20 years after the events depicted in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“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,” the press release said.

“I, along with millions of others around the world, always wished that Harper Lee had written another book. And what a brilliant book this is,” Michael Morrison, president and publisher of HarperCollins US General Books Group and Canada, said. “I love Go Set a Watchman, and know that this masterpiece will be revered for generations to come.”

Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher, said:

This is a remarkable literary event. 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.

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