RIP Harper Lee, America’s Literary Sweetheart

I was feeling cheery this Friday morning and was brainstorming my next blog post, when I clicked through my RSS feed and this news broke my heart.

It’s not that I was surprised that Lee passed away, given that she was 89 and in failing health. It’s that a light has gone out in American culture. As the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee has shaped our views on race relations, the justice system, and what it means to be a true patriot. In a sense, it’s as if Lee and Atticus Finch were synonymous in our minds, and today we are all Scout mourning the loss of a parent.

I can only hope that Lee found peace in her last years, and that her lawyers and publishers respect her final wishes. I’ve already discussed why I won’t be reading Go Set a Watchman, given the controversy surrounding its release, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t hold Lee’s words dear. In fact, it only seems right that I share some of my favorite quotes from America’s literary sweetheart:

On reading: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

On equality: “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

On courage: “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

I could write pages and pages worth of gratitude, but my words would never deliver as much impact as yours have. Thank you for all that you have done, Harper Lee. The world will surely miss you.

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Why You Should Not Celebrate the New Harper Lee Novel

Image via Jezebel

A couple days ago, the world imploded with the news that Harper Lee, America’s literary sweetheart, will be publishing a new book 55 years after her debut, which is set for release this summer.

The novel, Go Set a Watchman, is not so much a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird as it is a first draft. It features Scout as an adult twenty years after the story of TKAM; preferring the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, Lee’s editor requested that Scout’s point of view be written entirely during that period of time. Lee, ever the people-pleaser, stated that, “I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.”

That attitude is exactly why fans should hesitate rejoicing over this new release. Today Harper Lee is 88 years old and going increasingly blind and deaf with age. Needless to say, she is not in an ideal mental state and is extremely vulnerable to exploitation.

This book’s publication would not be the first time that someone has tried to screw Lee over. The author filed two lawsuits in 2013: one over an alleged attempt to get her to sign over her copyright to TKAM, and the other against a local museum profiting off her prestige without compensation.

The news of this new book comes at a suspicious time, only a few months after Lee’s sister and lawyer Alice passed away at the age of 103. Lee has no children and now her entire estate is at risk, thanks to the whims of her editors and their lawyers.

The poor woman lives in a nursing home, can’t see or read, and has been known to sign anything put in front of her. Why, after decades of intense privacy, would Lee publish a story? Why are her editors so interested in this book which had been previously written off as a subpar first draft? And why has this release been timed so soon after the death of her sister and former legal counsel?

If you don’t agree with my skepticism, check out Jezebel’s critique and follow-up of the news. Then read The Toast’s scathing response to the interview given by Lee’s editor at HarperCollins, Hugh Van Dusen. Here are the most alarming statements he gave:

Q: Harper is a famously private person. Does she have any ambivalence about the fact that the publication of the book is going to result in a lot of new publicity?
A: I don’t think so. In our press release she says…

Q: Has the book been edited? Or is what will eventually be on bookshelves untouched from what was in the safety deposit box?
A: If it has been edited, nobody’s told me.

Q: Has there been any direct contact about the book between Harper and HarperCollins? Or is it all down through intermediaries?
A: Are you asking if we’ve been in touch with her directly? I don’t know, but I don’t think so, only because she’s very deaf and going blind. So it’s difficult to give her a phone call, you know?

Q: Is it fair to say that Harper won’t be talking to the media now that she’s got a new book out?
A: I don’t think anything there’s going to be anything more revealing than what’s in the press release.

I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a ton of BS. I fear that these snakes are coercing her into signing away her fortune. TKAM has sold over 40 million copies, and now everyone is hoping to profit off this impending jackpot while Lee quietly lives out the end of her days.

I hate to be a buzzkill, because I love TKAM as much as the next person. It is the quintessential ‘Great American Novel,’ and its critique of race relations in the South is just as timely today as it was half a century ago. TKAM is a national treasure, and I worry that Harper Lee is about to get her treasure taken away from her.

So how do you feel about Go Set a Watchman? Are you ready to “Go Set” a preorder, or do you think Harper Lee needs her own “Watchman” over her threatened estate?