On Tuesday, February 3, 2015, Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, announced that it will publish a new novel by Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning and hugely best-selling To Kill a Mockingbird, which boasts 40 million copies worldwide. The new novel, Go Set a Watchman, will be published July 14 with a first printing of two million copies. Tina Andreadis, senior vice president and director of publicity, HarperCollins, confirms that there will be no advance review copies and no interviews, but library orders are starting to flow and library marketing plans are dictating themselves. Says Josh Marwell, president of sales, HarperCollins, “Our goal in bringing Go Set a Watchman to libraries and their patrons around the world is basically to stand out of the way.”
Set during the mid-1950s, when it was completed, it was written before To Kill a Mockingbird and features that novel’s heroine, Scout (Jean Louise Finch), returning from New York to Maycomb, AL, as an adult to visit her father, Atticus Finch. The Civil Rights Movement was just beginning then, and Scout struggles to understand her father’s and her own attitudes toward the world in which she grew up.
Therein lay the seeds of Lee’s famous first and (until this summer) only published work, which appeared in 1960. As the 88-year-old author explains in a statement from her publisher, “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 (what became To Kill a Mockingbird) from the point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.” The rest, as they say, has been earth-shaking literary history.
Lee thought that Go Set a Watchman was lost, but it was rediscovered in fall 2014 by her friend and lawyer Tonja Carter, in a secure place and attached to an original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird. Publication was negotiated by Michael Morrison, President and Publisher of HarperCollins US General Books Group and Canada, which retains North American rights. Lee debated sometime before deciding to release the book, modestly declaring, “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.”
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the world’s most read and most loved books. In 2006, for instance, it topped a list by British librarians of the one book every adult should read before dying, beating out the Bible. It’s also been a contentious book in this country, appearing regularly on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books, most recently in 2011 in the No. 10 spot and as No. 21 on the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009.
The new book may raise some challenges, too, but will doubtless be purchased en masse. Says Melissa DeWild, Kent Dist. Lib., Comstock Park, MI, a member of the LibraryReads steering committee, “I will be purchasing A LOT of this newly discovered title! I’ll also definitely purchase this for our ‘Book Club in a Bag’ service as I know it will be a big hit with book discussion groups.” Any bets on which book will head the LibraryReads Top Ten list sometime this summer?