Harper Lee, Where have you been?

Harper Lee receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
Pulitzer Prize winner and "To Kill A Mockingbird" author Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images 2007

The world is atwitter with news about Harper Lee's new book.

Written more than 60 years ago and recently discovered in a pile of papers, "Go Set a Watchman" will be released on July 14.

It's Lee's first book since 1960, and her only published title besides the classic "To Kill a Mockingbird."

So what's the story behind the story?

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Where did this new book come from?

"Go Set a Watchman" was actually written before "To Kill a Mocking Bird." In it, a grown Scout Finch returns from New York to her hometown of Maycomb to visit her father, Atticus.

After Lee wrote "Watchman" in the 1950s, her editor encouraged her to expand on some of the flashback sequences. These flashbacks became the basis for "To Kill a Mockingbird."

While "Mockingbird" went on to sell more than 30 million copies and win the Pulitzer Prize, "Watchman" was put aside and forgotten — until now. A copy of the original "Watchman" manuscript was discovered last fall and will be released in July.

Why did it take so long?

Lee herself thought the manuscript had been lost. In a statement today issued by her publisher, she said she was "surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it." Carter uncovered the long-lost manuscript clipped to an early copy of "Mockingbird."

Lee, who never published another book after "Mockingbird," wasn't immediately sure "Watchman" should be released. "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," she said. "I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years."

Truman Capote
American writer Truman Capote, author of 'In Cold Blood' and 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'.
Harry Dempster / Getty Images 1968

Why did Lee never write another book?

There are many theories about why Lee never followed up "Mockingbird" with another book. It could have been the overwhelming publicity; Lee is notoriously protective of her privacy.

It could also have been the pressure to outdo what many consider one of the best books of all time. Lee's sister, Alice Finch Lee, once told reporters: "I'll put it this way: When you have the pinnacle, how would you feel about writing more? Would you feel like you're competing with yourself?"

One of the more creative theories is that Lee never wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird" — Truman Capote did. Capote and Lee were childhood friends, and this connection has fed speculation about the book's true author. (Capote did inspire the Dill Harris character in "Mockingbird.") Academics have dismissed this notion for many reasons, one being that Capote loved the spotlight too much to have ever let Lee win the Pulitzer Prize in his place.

What has Lee been up to for the last 60 years?

It's a little bit of a mystery. Her refusal to grant press interviews just adds to the intrigue.

In the 1960s and '70s, there were reports that she was working on a second novel, but sources suggest she never finished it and has no plans to. In 2006, she broke her silence and penned an open letter to Oprah Winfrey about the importance of reading.

In 2013, she made headlines when she sued her agent, saying he had duped her into signing away the royalties to her book. The suit claimed that Samuel Pinkus approached Lee in 2007, when she was in an assisted-living facility recovering from a stroke, and had her transfer the copyright of "Mockingbird" to his company. The parties reached an undisclosed agreement in September.

Since then, it's been all quiet on the Maycomb front — until now.

Why are some people worried about this new book?

Lee's health has been in question for some time, and after the 2013 lawsuit against her agent, there are concerns that people may try to take advantage of the literary legend.

Her older sister, Alice, was a strong advocate for Lee, but she passed away in November at age 103. People have taken to Twitter to speculate whether Alice's death may have paved the way for the publication of "Watchman."


On The Daily Circuit: Will Harper Lee's new book live up to expectations?

Ron Charles, editor for The Washington Post's Book World, and Mary McDonough Murphy, author of "Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of 'To Kill a Mockingbird,'" joined The Daily Circuit for a discussion about the book on Feb. 4.

While some people have questioned the story of the manuscript's discovery, Charles was not surprised. It's reported that Harper Lee's lawyer found it mixed in with other papers in a safe deposit box this fall. "This is not that unusual," Charles said. "At the Library of Congress, for example, there are literally hundreds of thousands of boxes of invaluable paper that no one has looked through yet. Such discoveries take place with some regularity."

Murphy, who met Harper Lee and her sister Alice while researching her book, also dismissed the controversy over the rediscovered manuscript. "I don't question the validity of the plan to publish this. Whether it's the gem that 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is, that's a different question," said Murphy.

Murphy also weighed in another controversy surrounding "To Kill a Mockingbird": Whether Truman Capote had anything to do with writing the book. "I could make a case that Harper Lee had more to with 'In Cold Blood' than Truman Capote had to do with 'To Kill a Mockingbird," Murphy said. "She went with him to Kansas, she wrote up the days' reporting in her Harper Lee-style. She could have been working on her second novel, but that's the kind of friend she was — she went with Truman Capote instead."

Join the conversation. Do you have memories of reading "To Kill a Mockingbird"? Are you excited for Lee's new book?