Not long after HarperCollins announced that "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Harper Lee would publish a second novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” after a 55-year hiatus, exclamations of excitement were met by whispers of concern that the 88-year-old literary icon was not in charge of the decision. In response, HarperCollins issued a statement Thursday, according to the Associated Press, that was provided by Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter. It stated that Lee said "she is alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions of 'Watchman.' "
The book, penned in the 1950s before "To Kill a Mockingbird," is slated for publication in July.
The author of the beloved classic has been swindled in the past by agents, had statements released by Carter that her sister Alice Lee, who died in 2014, discovered later were composed by the lawyer and passed off as Harper Lee's, and has been described as willing to sign anything put in front of her.
Some also find it questionable that Lee's publisher apparently did not directly speak to the author about the new book, but rather through her attorney, Carter, and literary agent Andrew Nurnberg.
"We've had a great deal of communication with Andrew and Tonja," Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham said in a statement, AP reported.
In 2007, Lee's agent Samuel Pinkus had her sign away her "Mockingbird" copyright to him, a story Vanity Fair covers in all its complicated detail. A lawsuit against Pinkus was settled in 2013, and Lee recovered damages and her copyright. According to the legal complaint, because of deteriorating eyesight (friends say she's legally blind) and her trust in those representing her interests, she didn't know what she was signing.
When journalist Marja Mills visited Monroeville, Alabama, to interview Harper Lee, she ended up moving next door after befriending Harper and Alice, and began interviewing them for a biography ("The Mockingbird Next Door," Penguin Press, 2014) she said was authorized by Harper Lee and for which she had a statement from Lee.
Penguin announced the book as "authorized" in 2011, but a statement from Lee's lawyer Carter contradicted that, according to a Gawker report.
"Contrary to recent news reports, I have not willingly participated in any book written or to be written by Marja Mills," Carter stated. "Neither have I authorized such a book. Any claims otherwise are false."
Carter later admitted to Alice Lee, who was taken aback by this announcement, that she had typed out the statement and had Harper Lee sign it. "Poor Nelle Harper can't see and can't hear," Alice Lee said, using her sister's actual first name, according to Gawker, "and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence. Now she has no memory of the incident." Alice said she was "humiliated, and upset about the suggestion of lack of integrity at my office." She was referring to the law office Carter was now in charge of, where Alice Lee practiced law for 70 years.
"The industry has been waiting 55 years for [Lee] to produce something else," author Tracy Chevalier ("Girl With a Pearl Earring") told the BBC, "and I'm not sure this is necessarily the thing she wants to bring out." Chevalier said she was excited about the prospect, but also "a little bit uneasy -- because it is her first novel that is going to be coming out, and unedited and first novels are full of passion but can they also can be overwritten and a little clunky."
Of "Go Set a Watchman," Harper Lee biographer Charles J. Shields told International Business Times: "[I]t was written before Harper had the benefit of a strong, experienced editor at her eventual publisher. Consider that 'To Kill a Mockingbird' went through several complete drafts. Although my fingers are crossed, I suspect 'Go Set a Watchman' will show signs of what it is: a first attempt at novel-writing by a young, inexperienced author." He added, "Understanding the relationship between the sisters as I do, I doubt whether Alice would have allowed this project to go forward."
Perhaps Harper Lee's public statement will lay to rest the question about whether the author herself does.
Is someone taking advantage of our national treasure, 88 year old Harper Lee?
â€” mia farrow (@MiaFarrow) February 4, 2015