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'We Devoured It': Publisher on Author Harper Lee's Long-Lost Second Book

Harper Lee thought she'd lost the manuscript she had written in the 1950s, which focuses on Scout 20 years after the events in the iconic novel.
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More than 50 years after author Harper Lee’s only published novel — the iconic "To Kill a Mockingbird" — his shelves, a second book, once thought lost by everyone including the author herself, is coming to life, her publisher announced Tuesday.

The novel, which Lee titled "Go Set a Watchman," was written in the mid-1950s — penned before what in 1960 would become the must-read tale of lawyer Atticus Finch, his daughter, Scout, and Atticus' defense of a falsely accused black man in the Depression-era South.

"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 from the point of view of the young Scout," the Pulitzer Prize-winning author said in a statement released Tuesday by publisher Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.

"I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn't realized it had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. 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," Lee, 88, said.

"Go Set a Watchman," submitted to Lee’s publisher in 1957, tells the tale of Scout 20 years after the events in "To Kill a Mockingbird," as she returns to Alabama from New York to visit her father in the 1950s, the publisher said. After she Lee was told to write the story from the perspective of a young Scout, she set the first work aside and thought she had lost it.

"I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years."

The publisher said the manuscript was found last fall. Author and filmmaker Mary McDonaugh Murphy said it was found in a bank safe-deposit box in Alabama after Lee’s sister, Alice, died. "In the course of cleaning out this deposit box, lo and behold, here is this manuscript attached to the original manuscript of 'To Kill a Mockingbird,'" Murphy said.

"We instantly read it, we devoured it," Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher of Harper, said of the 304-page manuscript. "Go Set a Watchman" will be published on July 14.

"Everyone had believed it to been lost, including Harper Lee herself," Burnham said. "You can see that it is written on a manual typewriter from the period. It has on the front of it the address where Harper Lee was living at the time in New York. But if you read the book, more importantly, only Harper Lee could have written this novel."

"To Kill a Mockingbird" was published in 1960. It was later made into a movie starring Gregory Peck, which won three Academy Awards. Robert Duvall, who played "Boo" Radley in the film, said that role was "a pivotal point in my career" and that he was looking forward to reading the new book.

The famously private Lee is unlikely to do a book tour; she hasn’t given an interview since 1964. "I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years," Lee said in a statement.

— with Phil Helsel