FacebookTwitter

My heart goes out to Harper Lee

By on Jul 16, 2015 in Maria's Blog, The Creative Life | 8 comments

Share On GoogleShare On FacebookShare On Twitter

go-set-a-watchman-and-to-kill-a-mockingbirdHarper Lee’s prequel of To Kill a Mockingbird was published this week. Go Set a Watchman is actually a first draft of Mockingbird, having been rejected by her publisher and refashioned into the iconic American novel millions have read and loved. There’s some question as to whether or not Lee wanted the manuscript published, and by early reviews we can understand her reluctance to publish after the monumental success of Mockingbird. By some accounts, Lee agreed to the publication while in a nursing home, living with the physical limitations brought on by a stroke. Others say she’s happy for it. Is she capable of making this decision, without duress of some kind, from parties who may not have her best interests at heart?

The situation hits close to home for me in two ways: one, as an aspiring author, would I really want an early version of my work, rejected by editors, to be published…especially after the iconic success of an earlier novel, and what appears to be a lifelong pattern of staying out of the limelight and keeping the Watchman manuscript under wraps? Secondly, my own mother recently suffered a broken hip and was ultimately moved to a nursing home. I’ve sat with her to sign documents over these last months, my heart aching at her vulnerability and feeble hands. She completely trusted my siblings and me that the signatures were in her best interest, and that the documents honored her wishes. I want to honor Harper Lee, too, on both counts.

IF I read Watchman, it will be as a first draft to Lee’s greatest work. This writer is intrigued by the process that created Mockingbird. Yet, I fear I’ll violate something sacred: the creative process; the essential trust between author and editor; and the sanctuary of the pen and page as early drafts take shape. Yet, I remain curious; my internal jury is still out. If I read Watchman, it will be the library’s edition. I don’t want to give the publisher the satisfaction of having sold one more copy.

Setting my own minor protest aside, my heart goes out to Harper Lee. Her work, polished or not, is now fair game for critics, and those who profit from the book’s sales. And I bet all she wants right now is a nap.

8 Comments

  1. Tracey Yokas

    July 16, 2015

    Post a Reply

    I love this piece Maria and have grappled with reading it for the exact reasons you lay out. I’m so grateful you posted this because I’m sure so many are not taking any of this into account. As you point out–I would be beyond MORTIFIED (and really pissed), if someone got their hands on the early drafts of my book. It sure would be nice if we could have real clarity from Harper for what she wants, but clearly, that’s exactly what at issue. How sad, for her and for the literary community. This is so great Maria…thanks again!

    • Maria

      July 16, 2015

      Post a Reply

      I know a lot of folks will probably think, “Well, it’s out there, so why not read it?” I share your mortification at having an early draft published. I have a hard enough time handing my work over to an editor, or trusted friends or family to read!

  2. Jessica Gilkison

    July 16, 2015

    Post a Reply

    Maria, 
    I’m so glad you’re bringing this perspective to the conversation about Watchman. While I knew there was some controversy around the release of this book, I didn’t know any of the specifics and I hadn’t thought about it from this angle. Thinking about your mom, or a loved one of mine in a similar situation, really illuminates this for me. And as a new writer, I can’t imagine someone publishing an early draft of work without my full consent. 

    • Maria

      July 16, 2015

      Post a Reply

      I know! I couldn’t help but think of my mom as I read the articles describing Harper Lee’s current health. And the timing of the “discovery” of the manuscript so closely after the death of her beloved sister, lawyer, and advocate casts a sad light on her possible participation in and assent to the publication of Watchman.

  3. i agree with you!  For me, I will not read the Watchman book because I don’t believe that Harper Lee wanted it to be read. She repeatedly said that she would never publish another book. Mockingbird was her masterpiece.  It feels disrespectful to her to read this draft. 

    • Maria

      July 17, 2015

      Post a Reply

      Thanks, Renee! I feel much the same way. “Disrespectful” is a good word, and useful to describe those who brought Watchman to press if indeed it was done without her understanding or consent.

  4. Julie Steele

    July 17, 2015

    Post a Reply

    Great addition to the posts and articles I’ve read about this situation.

    I am with you, IF I choose to read it, it will be the library’s copy so that I’m not complicit in adding to the coffers of a publisher who may or may not have published this within the confines of integrity.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *