Red Flags Raised About Harper Lee's 2nd Novel

Questions emerge about publicity-shy author suddenly releasing book
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 4, 2015 10:38 AM CST
Red Flags Raised About Harper Lee's 2nd Novel
This March 14, 1963, file photo shows Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "To Kill a Mockingbird."   (AP Photo, File)

The literature world rejoiced yesterday in hearing that Harper Lee would be publishing her reportedly long-lost second novel more than 50 years after To Kill a Mockingbird. But others aren't so sure everything's on the up-and-up, citing the author's notoriously publicity-shy nature, the recent death of her fiercely protective sister, and the somewhat shady characters that have swirled around her for years, perhaps preying on her age and reported ill health. After all, Lee won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 for her debut effort, and in a 1962 press conference, when asked how she felt about a possible second novel, she replied, "I'm scared," as per the New York Times. (Lee herself noted in the publisher's statement released yesterday that she'd written the new novel before Mockingbird.) As Megan Garber writes for the Atlantic in pondering Lee's legacy: "Why end the silence? And why do it now?"

The skepticism partly comes from the fact that Lee has been linked in the past (and perhaps the present) with those who may not have been looking after her best interests. She sued Samuel Pinkus, her ex-agent, for reportedly "duping" her out of the copyright to Mockingbird (they settled in 2013); she disputed she had anything to do with a memoir published about her in 2014; and she "has a history of signing whatever's put in front of her," sometimes at the urging of Tonja Carter, her tight-lipped attorney, Gawker has noted. But it's the loss of Alice Lee—her older sister and most ardent protector—that may have upped the vulnerability level of Lee, said by multiple sources to be mostly blind and deaf after a 2007 stroke. "Just feels very potentially exploitative, especially given how TKAM itself was exploited and how badly Lee was cheated," a tweet cited on Jezebel reads. (More Harper Lee stories.)

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