The 8 Shadiest Descriptions of How Harper Lee’s New Novel Was Found
When Harper Lee’s lawyer and close friend, Tonja Carter, went combing through the secure archive near the author’s Alabama home last fall, she only intended to check on the condition of the original manuscript of Lee’s beloved best-seller, To Kill a Mockingbird. What she found was something else entirely: a complete second book, believed to have been lost for more than 50 years.
But another narrative has emerged that suggests the discovery may have happened years earlier, in October 2011, when Justin Caldwell, a rare books expert from Sotheby’s auction house, flew to Alabama to meet with Ms. Carter and Samuel Pinkus, then Ms. Lee’s literary agent, to appraise a “Mockingbird” manuscript for insurance and other purposes.
Ms. Lee’s novel “Go Set a Watchman” was initially said to have been found in August.
The discrepancy between the two accounts raises questions about whether the book was lost and accidentally recovered, and about why Ms. Lee would not have sought to publish it earlier.
“Harper Lee’s lawyer and friend, Tonja Carter, discovered it, sort of picked up the manuscript and flipped through it and then saw that some of the scenes and characters in the book had no relation to Mockingbird and realized it was actually two different books. This was the first time the manuscript had been found since heaven-knows-when. Harper Lee lost track of it in the ’60s.”
Last week two senior publishing executives made a special visit to meet Harper Lee in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
Susan Sandon, managing director of a division of Penguin Random House, and Jason Arthur from publisher William Heinemann, presented the 89-year old novelist with a finished copy of what is only her second novel.
“She’s looking forward to publication and was pleased to see the publishing team again,” says Charlotte Bush, of parent company Penguin Random House, and one of a handful of people to have read the book ahead of its official release.
Berman: What condition was the manuscript found in? Was it completely finished or was there anything that needed to be done by her or anyone else to get it ready for publication?
Burnham: It is completely finished. It needs virtually no editing. The only editing I think it needs is perhaps a light copy edit. It looks to me like a book that’s been worked on and polished, and is very much a finished thing. So it’s not going to go through any extensive editorial process.
Intrigue around how it came to HarperCollins has added to the buzz. A lawyer for Ms. Lee said she discovered the decades-old manuscript for “Watchman” in 2014, igniting concerns about Ms. Lee’s desire to have it published and her well-being. An Alabama state investigation concluded Ms. Lee was not a victim of elder abuse.
Fans gave up long ago on the hope that it would be followed by a second book, and Lee herself reportedly told friends she could never complete another novel. When the lost manuscript, the precursor to Mockingbird, was found, anticipation reached a fever pitch — as did concern over the author’s true wishes…. Harper Collins announced that a new book had been discovered. Lee had moved back to Monroeville after suffering a stroke and was in an assisted living facility.
Asked to comment through an intermediary, Harper Lee said, in essence, “Not just no, but hell no!”
— Vanity Fair.