Having won the National Medal of Freedom for her contributions to literature after the publication of her debut novel To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, one might imagine that Harper Lee would be a little nervous about the release of a second book. After over 50 years of optimistic anticipation and just as much skepticism, the surprise announcement was made today by Lee’s publishers Penguin Random House that a sequel to the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird would be published on 14 July 2015.
William Heinemann, an imprint of Penguin Random House, have the rights to publish in the UK and Commonwealth, excluding Canada. They were the original UK publishers of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Titled Go Set a Watchman, the new novel is a sequel set 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee said, via her publishers, that “it features the character known as Scout as an adult woman [as] she is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand both her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.”
Considering the original bildungsroman is essential reading for the adolescent, it will be interesting to discover Scout’s adult life; millions of the 88 year old author’s fans are now long past young adulthood themselves. This sequel, however, much like the earlier work, promises to speak to generations of readers. Associate Editor Freya Sanders is “really surprised that they found this manuscript and that Harper Lee is willing to publish. The expectations will be really high, but I’m so excited to read it”.
Lee revealed, however, that the novel is not a new piece. She said that To Kill a Mockingbird grew out of her manuscripts for this novel, which her editor persuaded her to abandon: “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.”
The novel was long thought lost. Lee’s millions of fans may never have had the sequel they so longed for, had it not been for the discovery by Lee’s friend Tonja Carter in autumn 2014. Thought irretrievably lost, Carter “discovered it in a secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird”.
The publication of a sequel to what has become a classic within the cannon of 20th century fiction, selling millions of copies worldwide, is not without risk. Part of Lee’s stature as an author is based on having written just one novel, the success of which brought her critical acclaim and popular reverence. Famously reclusive, Lee said that “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”. It will almost certainly be a financial success, but the novel’s critical evaluation may suffer from comparisons to the earlier work. Nevertheless, the release is sure to be not only of interest to fans of To Kill a Mockingbird, but of cultural significance for all people, regardless of age or race.