Tag Archives: Harper Lee

Courage, mystery, and death: Facts and Opinions about Harper Lee

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) before awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American novelist Harper Lee (L) in the East Room of the White House, in this November 5, 2007, file photo. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) before awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American novelist Harper Lee (L) in the East Room of the White House, in this November 5, 2007, file photo. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee dies, age 89, by Bill Trott, February 19, 2106

Harper Lee, who wrote one of America’s most beloved literary classics, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and surprised readers with a second book about racial injustice in the U.S. South after living a largely reclusive life for decades, died at the age of 89.

Harper Lee: a life of great courage, by Richard Gray, February 19, 2016

Harper Lee showed real courage throughout her life – not least, by writing a book that went against the tide of majority white opinion in the American South at the time. Her reward for that courage is to be loved by generations of readers, who have discovered – and will continue to do so – that reading her work can change everything.

There’s something mysterious about reviving Harper Lee’s Mockingbird, by Richard Gray (F&O Archives, Feb. 2015)

Every now and then, the writer Josephine Humphreys has suggested, our lives veer from their day-to-day course and become for a short while “the kind of life that can be told as a story – that is, one in which events appear to have meaning”. As the astounding news breaks that she is to publish a second novel, Harper Lee must be feeling like her life has become a story – a story which the meaning of remains just a little hidden and mysterious.

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and survives on the honour system. Try one story at no charge. If you value expert, no-spam, no-ads, non-partisan, evidence-based, independent journalism, chip in at least two bits per story to ensure we continue. Thanks for your interest and support. Details here.

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Harper Lee: a life of great courage

RICHARD GRAY, University of Essex 
February 19, 2016

Harper_Lee_Medal

Harper Lee with U.S. President George W. Bush. US government photo

The death of Harper Lee is big news. Bigger than the deaths of most major writers.

Why? It isn’t because she made worldwide headlines last summer due to the controversy over the recent publication of Go Set A Watchman. That book was initially described as a sequel To Kill A Mockingbird, but is now generally regarded as a shoddy first draft of Lee’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning work. It is pretty disappointing.

But Go Set a Watchman does help to suggest why To Kill A Mockingbird made such an impact when it appeared and continues to do so. The 1960 novel, unlike the book published in 2015, is committed without being preachy. It makes serious points about race, class and the sheer delight and agony of growing up in the only way fiction can and should – by immersing its readers in the lives of its characters. And it tells a story that is simultaneously instructive, insightful and gripping. In short, it makes a difference – to the life, that is, of anyone who ever reads it.

Which brings me back to why the death of Harper Lee is such an event. Without question, To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the most important books written by an American in the latter half of the 20th century.

If that sounds like hype, just consider a few facts and figures. A 1991 survey of 5,000 Americans conducted by the Library of Congress to determine which book had made the greatest difference in their readers’ lives listed To Kill A Mockingbird as second only to the Bible. One of president Bill Clinton’s closest friends, James Carville, declared in his memoir that reading Lee’s novel when he was 16 “changed everything” for him. “When I got to the last page,” Carville said:

I closed it and said, ‘they’re right and we’re wrong’. The issue was literally black and white, and we [white southerners] were absolutely, positively on the wrong side.

So thoroughly has To Kill A Mockingbird permeated contemporary culture and popular discourse, and American culture in particular, that the battle over Clinton’s impeachment included a debate about the meaning of the novel. Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr attempted to co-opt the hero of To Kill A Mockingbird, lawyer Atticus Finch, for the prosecution. Clinton’s personal attorney, David E Kendall, retaliated with an opinion column in the New York Times titled “To Distort a Mockingbird”, in which he interpreted the moral values of the novel in defence of the president.

The point, both men knew, is that they could make such claims for and against a beleaguered president with the confidence that their audience – American voters, the general public at home and abroad – would know who and what they were talking about. After all, in the United States, To Kill A Mockingbird was, until this moment, the most widely assigned reading of any living author in US high schools; and, among all English language authors living or dead, she remains only below William Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain. To Kill a Mockingbird has sold over 30m copies in English worldwide, and has been translated into 40 languages.

“Real courage” goes one of the most memorable quotes in To Kill A Mockingbird, “is … when you know when you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what”. Harper Lee showed real courage throughout her life – not least, by writing a book that went against the tide of majority white opinion in the American South at the time. Her reward for that courage is to be loved by generations of readers, who have discovered – and will continue to do so – that reading her work can change everything.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Richard Gray is a Professor in English Literature, University of EssexThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee dies, age 89, by  Bill Trott, February 19, 2106

Harper Lee, who wrote one of America’s most beloved literary classics, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and surprised readers with a second book about racial injustice in the U.S. South after living a largely reclusive life for decades, died at the age of 89.

There’s something mysterious about reviving Harper Lee’s Mockingbird, by Richard Gray Feb. 2015

Every now and then, the writer Josephine Humphreys has suggested, our lives veer from their day-to-day course and become for a short while “the kind of life that can be told as a story – that is, one in which events appear to have meaning”. As the astounding news breaks that she is to publish a second novel, Harper Lee must be feeling like her life has become a story – a story which the meaning of remains just a little hidden and mysterious.

~~~

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value our journalism please support F&O –and tell others about us.

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To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee dies, age 89

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) before awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American novelist Harper Lee (L) in the East Room of the White House, in this November 5, 2007, file photo. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) before awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to American novelist Harper Lee (L) in the East Room of the White House, in this November 5, 2007, file photo. REUTERS/Larry Downing/Files

BILL TROTT
February 19, 2106

Copies of Harper Lee's book "Go Set a Watchman" are displayed on a table inside of a Barnes & Noble store in New York, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Copies of Harper Lee’s book “Go Set a Watchman” are displayed on a table inside of a Barnes & Noble store in New York, July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

(Reuters) – Harper Lee, who wrote one of America’s most beloved literary classics, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and surprised readers with a second book about racial injustice in the U.S. South after living a largely reclusive life for decades, died at the age of 89 on Friday.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” was published in 1960 as the civil rights movement was heating up and its unflinching examination of racial hatred in the South made it especially poignant. Its theme could be summed up with the advice that Atticus Finch, the noble lawyer, gave his young daughter, Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

A statement from Tonja Carter, Lee’s attorney in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, said Lee had “passed away early this morning in her sleep” there and that her death was unexpected. She would have a private funeral but no date was announced.

It had appeared that Lee’s sole literary output would be “To Kill a Mockingbird,” especially since she acknowledged she could not top the Pulitzer Prize-winning book. That was what made the publication 55 years later in July 2015 of “Go Set a Watchman” such an unexpected and somewhat controversial literary event.

In the first book, Finch, the adored father of the young narrator Scout, stood up to a white lynch mob and unsuccessfully defended a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman. But in “Watchman,” an older Atticus had racial views that left the grown-up Scout greatly disillusioned.

Lee reportedly had written “Go Set a Watchman” first but, at the suggestion of a wise editor, set it aside to tell a tale of race in the South from the child’s point of view in the 1930s.

For many years, Lee, a shy woman with an engaging Southern drawl who never married, lived quietly and privately, always turning down interview requests. She alternated between living in a New York apartment and Monroeville, where she shared a home with her older sister, lawyer Alice Lee.

After suffering a stroke and enduring failing vision and hearing, she spent her final years in an assisted living residence in Monroeville.

“When I saw her just six weeks ago, she was full of life, her mind and mischievous wit as sharp as ever,” her agent, Andrew Nurnberg, said in a statement. “She was quoting Thomas More and setting me straight on Tudor history.”

The movie version of “To Kill a Mockingbird also became an American classic. It won the Academy Award for best picture in 1963 while Gregory Peck, who played Atticus and would become Lee’s good friend, was named best actor.

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SAD DAY IN MONROEVILLE

Drink coasters are shown for sale in the gift shop of the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, Alabama October 23, 2013. REUTERS/Verna Gates

Drink coasters are shown for sale in the gift shop of the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, Alabama October 23, 2013. REUTERS/Verna Gates

Spencer Madrie, owner of the Ol’ Curiosities & Book Shoppe dedicated to the work of Lee and other Southern authors, said Monroeville was in a sombre mood.

“You wish somebody like that could go on forever and be this lifelong legend,” he said. “You don’t ever consider somebody like that passing, even though her legacy will last for generations after.”

Monroeville, which inspired the town of Maycomb in the book, eventually took on aspects of a “To Kill a Mockingbird” theme park with statues of the main characters, murals of important scenes, a museum display and tours of the courtroom.

Lee’s state of mind would become an issue last year when plans were announced to publish “Go Set a Watchman.” Some friends said that after the death of her sister Alice, who handled Harper’s affairs, lawyer Carter had manipulated Lee to approve publication.

Carter had said she came across the “Watchman” manuscript while doing legal work for Lee in 2014 and an investigation by Alabama state officials found there was no coercion in getting Lee’s permission to publish.

A family friend, the Reverend Thomas Lane Butts, told an Australian interviewer that Lee had said she did not publish again because she did not want to endure the pressure and publicity of another book and because she had said all that she wanted to say.

Despite her private nature, Lee regularly attended an annual luncheon at the University of Alabama to meet the winners of a high school essay contest on the subject of her book.

In November 2007, she went to the White House to accept a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, who at the time called her book “a gift to the entire world.”

Bush said in a statement on Friday that he and his wife, Laura Bush, a former librarian, mourned Lee. “Harper Lee was ahead of her time and her masterpiece ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ prodded America to catch up with her,” he said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Lee “had a way of telling stories that does have an influence and resonates with so many Americans.” He said President Barack Obama had great respect for her.

News of Lee’s death spread widely on social media and tributes poured in from well-known figures, such as Apple Inc Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, who quoted the author in a tweet by saying, “Rest in peace, Harper Lee. ‘The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.'”

Amy Burchfield and her daughter Scout Burchfield take a photo with the "A Celebration of Reading" sculpture at the Old Monroe County Courthouse, the setting of "To Kill a Mockingbird" in Monroeville, Alabama July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger

Amy Burchfield and her daughter Scout Burchfield take a photo with the “A Celebration of Reading” sculpture at the Old Monroe County Courthouse, the setting of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in Monroeville, Alabama July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Spooneybarger

CHANGING RACIAL VIEWS

Nelle Harper Lee was born April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, the youngest of four children of A.C. and Frances Finch Lee and a descendant of Civil War General Robert E. Lee. Like Scout, Lee grew up a tomboy.

Lee had studied law at the University of Alabama but, six months before finishing her studies, she went to New York in the early 1950s to pursue a literary career while working as an airline reservation clerk.

In 1956 friends Michael and Joy Brown gave Lee a special Christmas gift, a year of financial support so she could work full time on “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

An estimated 30 million copies of the book were sold. It would become required reading in many American schools but the American Library Association said it was frequently challenged by those who did not like its subject matter.

Lee also played a key role in researching another great American book by Truman Capote, her childhood friend and the inspiration for the frail, precocious Dill in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

In 1959 she accompanied Capote to Holcombe, Kansas, to work on “In Cold Blood,” the chilling account of the murders of a farming family. Her mannerly, down-home approach undoubtedly smoothed the way for the flamboyant Capote.

There was speculation that Capote helped her write “To Kill a Mockingbird” but in his 2006 biography, “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee,” Charles J. Shields disputed that. He also said Lee’s contribution to Capote’s “In Cold Blood” was greater than believed.

Lee’s sister said the authors eventually fell out because Capote was jealous of Lee’s Pulitzer, which she won in 1961.

In 2006 Lee wrote a piece for O magazine about developing a childhood love of books, even though they were scarce in Monroeville.

“Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books,” she wrote.’

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting and writing by Bill Trott; Additional reporting by Letitia Stein and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Grant McCool)

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Seven facts about Harper Lee

Harper_Lee_Medal(Reuters) – Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” became one of the most beloved books in U.S. literary history. Here are seven facts about Lee, who died at the age of 89:

  • She went by Harper, her middle name, because she was afraid her first name, Nelle, would be mispronounced as “Nellie,” not “Nell.”
  • Lee based the “To Kill a Mockingbird” character Dill on childhood friend Truman Capote, who in turn used her as the basis for a character in his “Other Voices, Other Rooms.”
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird,” published in 1960, won the Pulitzer Prize the following year, but Conrad Richter’s “The Waters of Kronos” beat her out for the National Book Award.
  • Lee’s fans were stunned to learn 55 years after publication of the novel of a long-stashed manuscript written before “To Kill a Mockingbird” and even more stunned that Atticus, the hero of the first book, was portrayed as a segregationist in “Go Set a Watchman.” Atticus was based on Lee’s father.
  • Lee and actor Gregory Peck became friends during the filming of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She remained close to his family and Peck’s grandson, Harper Peck Voll, is named for her.
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird” created a cottage industry in her hometown, Monroeville, Alabama, with a museum dedicated to it, although Lee filed a lawsuit claiming it was selling unlicensed merchandise, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” beverage coasters.
  • Actresses Sandra Bullock (“Infamous” in 2006) and Catherine Keener (“Capote” in 2005) portrayed Lee in movies about the writing of Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”

(Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Diane Craft and Steve Orlofsky)

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Harper Lee: a life of great courage, by Richard Gray

Harper Lee showed real courage throughout her life – not least, by writing a book that went against the tide of majority white opinion in the American South at the time. Her reward for that courage is to be loved by generations of readers, who have discovered – and will continue to do so – that reading her work can change everything.

There’s something mysterious about reviving Harper Lee’s Mockingbird, by Richard Gray Feb. 2015

Every now and then, the writer Josephine Humphreys has suggested, our lives veer from their day-to-day course and become for a short while “the kind of life that can be told as a story – that is, one in which events appear to have meaning”. As the astounding news breaks that she is to publish a second novel, Harper Lee must be feeling like her life has become a story – a story which the meaning of remains just a little hidden and mysterious.

~~~

 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value our journalism please support F&O –and tell others about us.

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There’s something mysterious about reviving Harper Lee’s Mockingbird

By Richard Gray, University of Essex 
February 6, 2015

Every now and then, the writer Josephine Humphreys has suggested, our lives veer from their day-to-day course and become for a short while “the kind of life that can be told as a story – that is, one in which events appear to have meaning”. As the astounding news breaks that she is to publish a second novel, Harper Lee must be feeling like her life has become a story – a story which the meaning of remains just a little hidden and mysterious.

Harper Lee being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, November 5, 2007. White House photo by Eric Draper

Harper Lee being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, November 5, 2007. White House photo by Eric Draper

The background to this story seems simple and straightforward enough. Harper Lee was born Nelle Lee in the small town of Monroe, Alabama in 1926. Her father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was a lawyer who, among other things, defended two African Americans accused of murdering a white storekeeper. Given the racist attitudes prevalent in the South at that time, it must have come as no surprise to anyone when the two men were found guilty, despite serious doubts over the evidence, and hanged.

Lee was a tomboy as a child. (Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird is deeply autobiographical). She then developed an interest in English literature as a school and college student. Moving to New York in 1949, she worked in various jobs and spent her spare time writing several long short stories, none of which were published.

The turning point in her early life came when Lee developed what had begun as a string of short stories into a novel that was eventually published in 1960 as To Kill a Mockingbird. It was an immediate success, winning several awards including a Pulitzer Prize and went on to sell more than 30 million copies worldwide. In 1999 it was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a poll by the Library Journal.

And the popular acclaim hardly stops there. In 1991, a survey of 5,000 Americans conducted by the Library of Congress to find out which book had made the greatest difference in readers’ lives listed To Kill a Mockingbird second only to the Bible. Bill Clinton claimed that reading the novel inspired him to become a lawyer. And, ironically, during President Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, the special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, tried to co-opt the novel’s hero, Atticus Finch, for the prosecution. The response of Clinton’s attorney, David E Kendall, was to write a piece for the New York Times titled: “To Distort a Mockingbird”, interpreting the moral values of the novel in defence of the president.

So far, so straightforward: but this is where the story begins slowly to turn strange. The central consciousness in To Kill a Mockingbird, a tomboyish young girl called Scout is clearly based on the author herself. Autobiographical it may be, but Lee was and remains a deeply private person; a symptom of this is that she identified herself as “Harper” not “Nelle” when the book was published. After publication, Lee seemed almost mortified by its success: “I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird,” she said in 1964.

“I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”

Perhaps it was this, being frightened by her own success and the subsequent invasion of her privacy, that persuaded Lee to become a virtual recluse. She has granted almost no requests for interviews or public appearances. At one of the few public ceremonies she agreed to attend, in 2007, she reacted to an invitation to address the audience by declaring: “Well, it’s better to be silent than a fool.” And, apart from a few short essays, she has published nothing more. Until recently, she appeared likely to join the ranks of those many American authors whose first completed and published novel is also their last.

Now comes the strangest part of the story. Lee is now very frail. According to her late sister Alice, writing in 2011, she “can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence”. Presumably, she has confidence in her lawyer who, according to Lee, discovered the manuscript of this second novel, Go Set a Watchman.

The novel describes an adult Scout returning to Maycomb County, visiting her father and recalling her childhood. A sequel, in a way, to Mockingbird, it was evidently written prior to it; after reading the story, Lee’s editor asked her to rewrite it from the viewpoint of Scout as a child. “I was a first-time writer”, Lee has said, “so I did what I was told” – and the rest is literary history.

“I hadn’t realised it had survived”, Lee has said of the discovery of Go Set a Watchman: “So I 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 that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

Exactly what part, if any, Lee has played in the preparation of the manuscript for press is unclear. What is clear is that the initial print run is for two million copies. Also unclear, to me at least, is the precise relationship of Go Set a Watchman to Mockingbird: do the two stories, for instance, overlap at all, given that the 1960 novel evolved out of this earlier manuscript? Precisely what the status is of Go Set a Watchman as a story – and a story worth reading – also remains open to debate.

Less open to debate is the strange, compelling character of the story of its origins. An ageing author, with just one novel to her credit, the surprise discovery of a manuscript that she thought had been lost, the mystery surrounding the condition of the author… all this is the stuff of fiction.

A belief of Emily Dickinson comes particularly to mind:

Publication – is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Harper Lee’s gamble could undermine her Mockingbird

By Paul Giles, University of Sydney
February 6, 2015

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and was voted The Greatest Novel of All Time in a London Daily Telegraph poll of 2008. To say there was a little pressure on its follow-up – some 55 years later – would be an understatement.

Lee, 88, has announced she will in July publish her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, involving some of the same characters as To Kill a Mockingbird. It is certain to be a commercial success, and indeed Lee’s publishers, Harper Collins, are planning an initial print run of 2 million copies.

In truth, though, Go Set a Watchman will be less a “new” novel than a variorum edition, or “director’s cut,” of To Kill a Mockingbird itself. In that work’s original manuscript, which turned up by chance last year, the focus is not so much on the six-year-old Scout Finch, from whose perspective Mockingbird is related, but on Scout Finch as a New York lawyer who returns to her fictional southern town of Maycomb to visit her father, lawyer Atticus Finch, who defended Tom Robinson against charges of rape.

Lee’s original editor persuaded her to relinquish this adult centre of gravity, to abandon her ambitious modernist time-shifts, and to tell Scout’s story not through flashback but through the eyes of a child within a more traditional linear sequence. As things turned out, one of the reasons for Mockingbird’s immense popularity was the way the book reconciled edgy and difficult racial issues through a child’s apparently innocent consciousness.

In that sense, Mockingbird spoke perfectly to its time, manifesting itself in classrooms throughout the world as a less rebarbative version of Huckleberry Finn, with Lee’s book speaking to the complexities of American racial conflict from within the safe confines of family life.

Although the novel does address issues of rape, sexual violence and embryonic sexuality, it simultaneously keeps them at a safe distance through the way it mediates them all through the eyes of a young child. But since its publication, the treatment of race in American fiction has moved on apace, in works by Toni Morrison and many others. It will be interesting to see whether Lee’s “new” novel stands the scrutiny of readers in a different century.


Harper Lee, circa 1962. Wikimedia Commons

Like her exact contemporary JD Salinger, who died in 2010, Lee has made a profitable career out of various forms of silence, both artistic and personal. Not only did she never publish another book after Mockingbird, she also refused consistently to speak or grant interviews about her famous novel.

With typical reticence, when declining to address one Alabama audience after being inducted into an Academy of Honor she remarked on how “it’s better to be silent than to be a fool”.

Go Set a Watchman will thus represent a significant risk for this least productive of writers. It will be interesting to see whether this first version of the novel does actually succeed in addressing racial and family issues in all of their multifarious adult complexity. Lee’s recent remarks on how she was “a first-time writer, so I did what I was told” would seem to imply a belief on her part that the original editor did her a disservice, artistically if not commercially, by editing out the story’s flashbacks and turning the book into a more conventional narrative.

On the other hand, if Go Set a Watchman disappoints, readers may conclude that the original editors knew what they were doing and that the book’s mass-market appeal derives not from its artistic subtlety or complexity but from its sentimental pungency, its capacity to hit all the right notes.

George W. Bush presented Lee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, and Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal of Arts in 2010, precisely because Mockingbird ticks so many of America’s conventional boxes. The novel textually valorises racial empathy, legal justice, family feeling and innate childhood wisdom, and as a cultural object it embodies the classic American virtue of overwhelming popularity in a commercial marketplace.

It would not have been so surprising if Go Set a Watchman had been published as a scholarly curiosity after Lee’s death, just as unfinished manuscripts of Salinger and Ralph Ellison have been produced recently by academic publishers. But by sanctioning the publication during her lifetime, Lee would seem to be taking the bold gamble late in life of staking a claim for artistic originality and legitimacy.

Concurrently, she runs the risk of undermining, or at least placing in a different light, the market niche of an indeterminate patriotic sentiment on which all of her fame and fortune have been based.

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The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

~~~

Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us by telling others about us, and purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page.

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Man Booker International 2016 Longlist. By Deborah Jones

Household, pseudonymous and new names are included in the longlist of 13 books in line for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, released March 10.

Fiction: How I watched Lee Child write a Jack Reacher novel. By Andy Martin

Nobody really believes him when he says it. And in the end I guess it is unprovable. But I can put my hand on heart and say, having been there, and watched him at work, that Lee Child is fundamentally clueless when he starts writing. — British professor Andy Martin, who spent much of a year with author Lee Child as he wrote the 20th novel in his Jack Reacher series.

Booker shortlist: bastion against death of the novel. By Stacy Gillis

The 2015 year’s Man Booker shortlist features two Britons, two Americans, one Jamaican and a Nigerian (four men and two women) and has been applauded for its diversity.

Oliver Sacks. Maria Popova, Creative Commons

Non fiction: Oliver Sacks brought us into his patients’ inner worlds. By Declan Fahy

Oliver Sacks achieved global public renown because his writings melded two particular traits that cut across his dual role as doctor and writer: his focus on single patients rather than large populations and his profound empathy.

Hiroshima’s literary legacy, by Daniel Cordle

Perhaps John Hersey’s greatest achievement is to render the Japanese bomb victims human to his American audience. After years of war, after the brutality of the Pacific campaigns, this is an aspect of the attack that had been neglected. By revealing the experience of some of World War II’s final victims Hersey stressed the devastating personal effects of this new and horrifying weapon.

The Man Booker is stacked in favour of big publishers. By Stevie Marsden

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction has announced its longlist for the 2015 award. Now in its 46th year, the award is among the most prestigious in the literary world. It is also incredibly generous to the big publishing houses.

Photo by Mark Sobzcak, Creative Commons

Mark Sobzcak

Remembering EL Doctorow, America’s conscience. By Michael Wutz

EL Doctorow, who died in July 2015, will be missed, indeed. Over the course of almost six decades, Doctorow wrote himself into the canon of American literature. Together with his contemporaries Toni Morrison and Philip Roth, he embodied the virtues of a classical storyteller rendering cultural diagnoses in ambitious and lyrical narratives.

Amazon at 20: evil overlord or positive for publishers? By Simon Rowberry

Amazon is 20 years old this month. And despite this pervasive narrative of the evil overlord milking its underlings for all their worth, Amazon has actually offered some positive changes in the publishing industry over the last 20 years. Most notably, the website has increased the visibility of books as a form of entertainment in a competitive media environment. This is an achievement that should not be diminished in our increasingly digital world.

World’s favourite bookstores ranking shows enduring market. By Paul X. McCarthy

In a business environment that has seen industries decimated by the rise of digital, one sector showing resilience is that of books. “Books are not like recorded music,” says Shaun Symonds, general manager of Nielsen Bookscan. If anything, the total global market for books is growing.

‘Monumental’ generates prize for Hungary’s Krasznahorkai, by F&O

László Krasznahorkai, enthusiast of run-on sentences full of capacious and meandering and digressive observations, is the winner of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize.

Hanging Out With Paddy’s Crowd, by Jim McNiven, Thoughtlines 

1200px-Desk_in_the_P._M._L._Fermor_garden_near_Kardamyli,_August_2007At the age of 18, in 1933, the charming and restless Patrick Leigh Fermor decided to walk alone from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul. The books that came of that journey, much later, exude feeling for the gradual tightening of the totalitarian state being devised by Hitler, a post-mortem on what was left of the landed aristocracy in Eastern Europe following World War I and the antagonisms between the welter of peoples in the successor states to the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.

Love letters – from Joyce’s dirty missive to Keats’s paeans. By Emily Bernhard Jackson

Love letters have existed for almost as long as writing itself. The Roman governor Pliny wrote to his wife, “a longing for you possesses me”. In the 15th century, noblewoman Margery Brews confided to her fiancé that to marry him would make her “the happiest maid on earth”. “Remember that once you finish the fresco we will be together forever once and for all,” wrote Frida Kahlo to an absent Diego Rivera. Love letters never get old, and they seem never to go out of fashion: people may think they’re corny, or embarrassing, but they still love to get them. One might even make the argument that the love letter constitutes a genre in itself.

There’s something mysterious about reviving Harper Lee’s Mockingbird. By Richard Gray

Harper_Lee_MedalEvery now and then, the writer Josephine Humphreys has suggested, our lives veer from their day-to-day course and become for a short while “the kind of life that can be told as a story – that is, one in which events appear to have meaning”. As the astounding news breaks that she is to publish a second novel, Harper Lee must be feeling like her life has become a story – a story which the meaning of remains just a little hidden and mysterious.

Harper Lee’s gamble could undermine her Mockingbird. By Paul Giles

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and was voted The Greatest Novel of All Time by a London newspaper poll. To say there was a little pressure on its follow-up – some 55 years later – would be an understatement. Now Lee, 88, has announced she will in July publish her second novel. But Go Set a Watchman will represent a significant risk for this least productive of writers.

Haggis, neeps and badness: Robert Burns’ dark side. By Corey E. Andrews

Our understanding of Robert Burns has been enriched by the thriving scholarship that has grown in the late 2000s. That said, his reputation is still bedevilled by long-standing misinterpretations of his life and work. In particular, he is still misappropriated to aid the causes of endless warring parties (political, religious, cultural, you name it!). But that doesn’t prevent his name and legacy being an opportunity for social pleasure once a year (twice if you count New Year), when the slightly absurd rituals governing the Burns Supper are re-enacted around the world. Whether the poet’s works are much read beyond such occasions seems immaterial when considering his popular cultural esteem as the enduring Poet of Scotland. But the real challenge is to appreciate him in this role while still recognising his very human weaknesses.

French author Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq

 Paris attack brings focus to French author Michel Houellebecq. By Louis Betty

When gunmen (thought to be radicalized Muslims) burst into the offices of Charlie Hebdo on the morning of January 7, the front page of the satirical newspaper’s most recent edition featured a caricature of French author Michel Houellebecq. The same day, his new novel Soumission (Submission) had been released – a fictionalized account of France’s election of an Islamist president in 2022. “In 2022, I’m observing Ramadan!” the cartoon of a ragged, cigarette-smoking Houellecbecq exclaims. Submission had generated controversy even before its publication.

Are children’s books “literature?” By Kiera Vaclavik

Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, was an ardent defender of children’s literature, believing the works of Beatrix Potter to be equal to “the greatest English prose writers that have lived”. One wonders therefore what he would have made of the rather unedifying row between the executors of his estate and the Rosenbach Museum and Library, to which he bequeathed his collection of rare books, including several volumes by Potter, on his death in 2012. His executors are refusing to hand them over, arguing that they are “merely” children’s books.

Reader beware: the nasty new edition of the Brothers Grimm. By Marguerite Johnson

 

Fairy tales have a tumultuous and fragile history. They originated as tales told by “folk”. They were passed down over generations to while away long winter nights, to provide entertainment at special occasions and for simple enjoyment. Inevitably, as more people became literate and scholars began to record fairy tales, they were published. And then, with a wave of a magic wand, they entered the canon of European literature.

News, Verbatim:  Ursula K. Le Guin’s call to action

American author Ursula K. Le Guin on Wednesday slammed the U.S. publishing industry’s “ignorance and greed,” and issued a cri de coeur on behalf of artists in a world where “hard times are coming” and writers will be needed who offer hope and freedom, and “see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being.” Le Guin won this year’s prestigious Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, given by the U.S. National Book Foundation to recognize “individuals who have made an exceptional impact on this country’s literary heritage.”

News, Verbatim: A U.S. Court Sets Sherlock Holmes Free. By F&O

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. Publicity photo by Hartswood Films via Vlickr, by Robert Viglasky

Photo by Robert Viglasky

America’s highest court freed the character of Sherlock Holmes from copyright restrictions sought by the estate of his late creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Will electric ink and aromapoetry revive the physical book? By Andrew Prescott 

Discussion of the “death of the book” has been going on for many years. We have got used to the idea that the physical artefact of the book may be replaced by e-readers or other forms of access to information. The speed and nature of these changes and the extent to which will the book will survive have been extensively and hotly debated. But given advances in technology, this debate may well prove to have been misconceived in ways we didn’t expect. If paper and ink are being transformed so that they become interactive digital media, surely the same can happen with the physical book.

Man Booker Prize: Colonization’s Long Shadow. By Preti Taneja

Peter Carey suggests a certain kind of book usually wins the Man Booker Prize — one that deals with complicated relationships between cultures and countries linked by a power dynamic located in the violence of colonization, and in the long shadow of cultural imperialism. Richard Flanagan’s winning novel, written with a devastating lyricism, lives up to this “type” entirely.

News: Nobel winner Patrick Modiano, Memory, identity and time

Patrick Modiano. (Facebook profile photo)

French author Patrick Modiano won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Nobel organization announced, “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.”

Who is Patrick Modiano, and why don’t most of us know him? By Alan Morris

To the English-speaking world, the awarding of the 2014 Nobel Prize for literature to Patrick Modiano will probably have come as a surprise.  He is renowned in his native France for keeping a very low profile, only venturing into the public spotlight momentarily with the appearance of each new novel. But few of his novels have been translated into English — probably because the incredibly distinctive ingredients of his universe do not travel particularly well.

Review: Naomi Klein‘s This Changes Everything. By Mike Berners-Lee

Naomi Klein’s third attack on capitalism, This Changes Everything, has put the urgency of climate change front and centre. As ever for Klein, unrestrained capitalism is the root problem and has to be dealt with, however difficult that might be – and however much money and power is propping it up. Our response so far has been hopeless, but she is able to point to recent signs that we might yet achieve the radical change we need: push hard now is the message.

Column: Judging the Man Booker Prize. By Dinah Birch, The Conversation

This year’s run-up to the naming of the Man Booker Prize winner has just begun, with the announcement of the 13 novels that make up the longlist. They will soon be dissected and analysed by readers and critics all over the world. For the first time, the prize has been open to writers of any nationality, as long as their work was originally in English and was published in the United Kingdom.

News: All the Things Hillary Clinton’s Book Doesn’t Say About Iraq. By Jeff Gerth, ProPublica

Having co-authored a 2007 biography of Hillary Clinton, I know that Iraq is not one of her favorite subjects. But with the bloodshed and sectarian division now crippling Iraq, I wondered what her new memoir, Hard Choices, had to say about a country that’s long been a political minefield for her. The answer is not a lot. There is no chapter on its own for Iraq, like there is for Gaza, or Burma or Haiti.

Alice Munro: Nobel a victory for the neglected short story. By Beth Palmer

The announcement of Alice Munro as 2013’s winner of the Nobel Prize for literature marks the high point in the 82-year old writer’s long career, but also a significant recognition for the form with which she is so closely aligned, the short story.

ReviewBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. By Charles Mandel

It takes a particular kind of genius to set an entire novel around a football game’s halftime show. Sure, the halftime extravaganzas at the large NFL games offers lots in the way of spectacle, but you wouldn’t expect to find the experience of a lifetime compressed in one.  Yet, that’s precisely what Ben Fountain achieves in his debut novel.

Review: Stephen Reid’s A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden. By Joyce Thierry Llewellyen

“If you find a pink vibrator washed up on a beach you might laugh and walk on by. But when you find a pink vibrator washed up on a beach and you are in prison — you do a snatch and run.” With those two opening lines, addict, bank robber, and writer Stephen Reid begins his collection of essays, A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing From Prison.  I first interviewed Reid in 1988 when I was in my final year at the University of Victoria, in Victoria, Canada.

News: Goliath, 1 — Creators, 0: Google defeats American authors. By Deborah Jones

Google won a skirmish in the exhausting copyright war between the company and the United States’ Authors Guild, over its Google Books project to digitally scan the world’s books. The guild maintains that Google is violating copyright – and in 2005 it  launched a suit against the company. Judge Denny Chin of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favour of Google, on the grounds the project has public benefits, constitutes fair use, and public access to digitized books is actually good for authors because it facilitates their book sales.

Review: George Packer’s Inner History of the New America. By Rod Mickleburgh

On a fall night, I wandered through the dark, foggy campus of the University if British Columbia, replete with cautionary signs to men about treating women right, to hear George Packer, superb chronicler and feature writer for The New Yorker magazine. Packer was on the Canadian campus as part of the Vancouver Writers Festival to talk about his latest book, The Unwinding, a best-selling attempt to get at the root of what the heck has gone wrong in once-mighty America through a series of individual profiles.

 REVIEWS ARCHIVES:

Tom Wolfe’s Hooking Up. By Charles Mandel, 2010

T. Coraghessan Boyle’s A Friend of the EarthBy Charles Mandel, 2000

James Houston’s Zigzag. By Deborah Jones, 1998

NEWS ARCHIVES:

Literature professor uses Wikipedia as a teaching tool. By Deborah Jones, 2008

Spider Robinson moves on. By Deborah Jones, 1987

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