Go Set a Watchman (Lee)

Author Bio
Birth—April 28, 1926
Where—Monroeville, Alabama, USA
Education—B.A. (later studied law), University of Alabama
Awards—Pulitzer Prize, 1961; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2007
Currently—Monroeville, Alabama


Harper Lee, known to friends and family as Nelle, was born in the small southwestern Alabama town of Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926, the youngest of four children. Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who also served on the state legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and a precocious reader, and enjoyed the friendship of her schoolmate and neighbor, the young Truman Capote.

While pursuing a law degree at the University of Alabama, she wrote for several student publications and spent a year as editor of the campus humor magazine, Ramma-Jamma. Though she did not complete the law degree, she pursued studies for a summer in Oxford, England, before moving to New York in 1950, where she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines and BOAC in New York City. Lee continued working as a reservation clerk until the late 50s, when she resolved to devote herself to writing.

She lived a frugal lifestyle, traveling between her cold-water-only apartment in New York to her family home in Alabama to care for her ailing father. Having written several long stories, Harper Lee located an agent in November 1956. The following month at the East 50th townhouse of her friends writer Michael Brown and Joy Williams Brown, she received a gift of a year's wages with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." Within a year, she had a first draft. Working closely with J. B. Lippincott & Co. editor Tay Hohoff, she completed To Kill a Mockingbird in the summer of 1959.

Published July 11, 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was an immediate bestseller and won her great critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. It remains a bestseller today, with over 30 million copies in print. In 1999, it was voted "Best Novel of the Century" in a poll conducted by the Library Journal.

After completing To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee accompanied Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, to assist him in researching what they thought would be an article on a small town's response to the murder of a farmer and his family. Capote expanded the material into his best-selling book, In Cold Blood (1966). The experiences of Capote and Lee in Holcomb were depicted in two different films, Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006).

Lee said of the 1962 Academy Award–winning screenplay adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird by Horton Foote: "If the integrity of a film adaptation can be measured by the degree to which the novelist's intent is preserved, Mr. Foote's sceen-play should be studied as a classic." She also became a close friend of Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, the father of the novel's narrator, Scout. She remains close to the actor's family. Peck's grandson, Harper Peck Voll, is named after her.

Later honors and recognition
In June 1966, Lee was one of two persons named by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the National Council on the Arts. On May 21, 2006, she accepted an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. To honor her, the graduating seniors were given copies of Mockingbird before the ceremony and held them up when she received her degree. In a letter published in Oprah Winfrey's magazine O (May 2006), Lee wrote about her early love of books as a child and her steadfast dedication to the written word: "Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books." In 2007 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

Go Set a Watchman
According to Lee's lawyer Tonja Carter, following an initial meeting to appraise Lee's assets in 2011, she re-examined Lee's safe-deposit box in 2014 and found the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman. After contacting Lee and reading the manuscript, she passed it on to Lee’s agent Andrew Nurnberg.

On February 3, 2015, it was announced that HarperCollins would publish Go Set a Watchman, which includes versions of many of the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird. According to a HarperCollins press release, it was originally thought that the Watchman manuscript was lost. According to Nurnberg, Mockingbird was originally intended to be the first book of a trilogy: "They discussed publishing Mockingbird first, Watchman last, and a shorter connecting novel between the two."

Jonathan Mahlers account of how Watchman was only ever really considered to be the first draft of Mockingbird, however, makes this assertion seem unlikely at best. Evidence where the same passages exist in both books, in many cases word for word, also further refutes this assertion.

The book was published to controversy in July, 2015, as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, though it has been confirmed to be only the first draft of the latter, with many narrative incongruities, repackaged and released as a completely separate work.

The book is set some 20 years after the time period depicted in Mockingbird, when Scout returns as an adult from New York to visit her father in Maycomb, Alabama. It alludes to Scout's view of her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral compass ("watchman") of Maycomb, and, according to the publisher, how she finds upon her return to Maycomb, that 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 publication of the novel (announced by her lawyer) raised concerns over why Lee, who for 55 years had maintained that she would never write another book, would suddenly choose to publish again.

In February 2015, the State of Alabama, through its Human Resources Department, launched an investigation into whether Lee was competent enough to consent to the publishing of Go Set a Watchman. The investigation found that the claims of coercion and elder abuse were unfounded,  and, according to Lee's laywer, Lee is "happy as hell" with the publication.

This characterisation, however, has been contested by many friends of Lee. Marja Mills, author of, The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, a friend and former neighbor of Lee and her older sister Alice, paints a very different picture. In her piece for The Washington Post, "The Harper Lee I Knew," she quotes Lee's sister Alice, whom she describes as "gatekeeper, advisor, protector" for most of Lee's adult life, as saying...

Poor Nelle Harper can't see and can't hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.

She makes note that Watchman was announced just two and a half months after Alice's death and that all correspondence to and from Lee goes through her new attorney. She describes Lee as...

in a wheelchair in an assisted living center, nearly deaf and blind, with a uniformed guard posted at the door [and visitors] restricted to those on an approved list.

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera supports this argument. He also takes issue with how the book has been promoted by the "Murdoch Empire" as a "newly discovered" novel, attesting that the other people in the Sothebys meeting insist that Lee's attorney Carter was present when the manuscript was first found—in 2011, not 2014—by Lee's former agent (who was subsequently fired) and the Sotheby's specialist. They claim Carter knew full well that it was the same one submitted to Tay Hohoff in the 1950's and reworked into Mockingbird—and that Carter has been sitting on the discovery, waiting for the moment when she, not Harper's sister Alice, would be in charge of Harper Lee's affairs.

Stephen Peck, son of actor Gregory Peck has also expressed concern. Responding to the question of how he thinks his father would have reacted to the book, he says that his father "would have appreciated the discussion the book has prompted, but would have been troubled by the decision to publish it."

Peck notes that his father considered Lee a dear friend. She gave him the pocket watch that had belonged to her father, on whom she modeled Atticus and that Gregory wore it the night he won an Oscar for the role. Stephen, who is president and chief executive of the United States Veterans Initiative, goes on to say, “I think he would have felt very protective of her,” and he believed his father would have counseled Lee not to publish Watchman because it could taint Mockingbird, one of the most beloved novels [in] American history.

Later in the same article, which was posted in The Wall Street Journal, Stephen Peck says,

To me, it was an unedited draft. Do you want to put that early version out there or do you want to put it in the University of Alabama archives for scholars to look at?

(Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 8/16/2015.)

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