UPDATE: The New York Times reports the State of Alabama’s Human Resources Department and the Alabama Securities Commission are investigating “at least one complaint of potential elder abuse related to the publication of [Harper Lee’s highly anticipated novel Go Set a Watchman].” HarperCollins Publisher and President Michael Morrison told the Times Lee was lucid and “in great spirits” when he and a colleague discussed publication details with the author. Andrew Nurnberg, the agent handling international rights for the book, called doubts about Lee’s ability to consent to publication “nonsense”.
If you’ve been following the news of Harper Lee’s recently discovered and soon-to-be released novel Go Set a Watchman, you know that the notoriously reclusive, 88-year-old author’s mental capacity to sign-off on the new publication has been called into question, partially because she filed suit in 2013 against her former literary agent alleging that he had schemed to dupe her out of her rights to her first, and Pulitzer-winning, novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which has sold an estimated 30 million copies since it was first released in 1960. The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court. Birmingham News reporter Connor Sheets got an answer straight from Lee after writing her.
In his letter, Sheets noted the controversy surrounding the book’s mysterious emergence. He also cited rumors that Lee’s publishers, eager to repeat the success of Mockingbird, which has enjoyed a recent spike in sales), may have strong armed her into agreeing to publish the new book. He wrote:
…I spoke with a number of people yesterday in Monroeville who have known you to various degrees over the years, and most of them are concerned about you and what is happening with “Go Set a Watchman” and your legacy. Janet Sawyer, owner of the Courthouse Café is worried that you are being manipulated into publishing the book against your long-held wishes. Some other folks worry that you are not mentally sound enough to make decisions about your career. Many worry that maybe you are being exploited.
No one wants to believe these things, but all we have heard from you since the announcement that you would be releasing a second novel is statements through [your attorney Tonja] Carter and your publisher. …If you would either call me at the number listed below or write back to me at the address listed below and provide some insight into how you decided to publish “Go Set a Watchman,” what led you to choose to do so this year, and otherwise let the public know what you have been up to, I believe that would help clear your name and inform people that you are indeed still a lucid woman and artist.
Lee’s reply was a lesson in economy of words: “Go away.”