Harper Lee to Publish New Novel 55 Years After Last

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Pulitzer Prize winner and 'To Kill A Mockingbird' author Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House, November 5, 2007. A second novel by the author is being reading for publishing. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Lovers of the 1960 classic To Kill a Mockingbird have reason to rejoice. Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishing, announced Tuesday it would publish a “new” novel by Harper Lee. Go Set a Watchman was in fact finished earlier than To Kill a Mockingbird. Though it was completed in the mid-1950s, the novel was only recently rediscovered by Lee’s lawyer.

“It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman and I thought it a pretty decent effort,” Lee, now 88, is quoted as saying in the publisher’s press release announcing the new novel. “My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout's childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.”

The resulting novel, featuring a young Scout Finch and set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, has sold more than 40 million copies and has been read by schoolchildren in classrooms across the country. It received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961, and the 1962 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck earned three Academy Awards.

The book, considered among the great American classics, was banned by some schools for its handling of racial inequality and sexual taboos.   

But after To Kill a Mockingbird appeared in 1960, Lee never published a second novel. Lee herself had thought her old manuscript for Go Set a Watchman had been lost, but her lawyer, Tonja Carter, discovered it in 2014 attached to a typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird.

“I hadn't realized it had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it,” Lee says. “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. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

Lee’s book will be hitting shelves just as another “new” novel will be published by another revered literary hero, Ayn Rand. In December, New American Library, a branch of the Penguin Books USA, announced that a novel by the late Rand would be published in July. Rand, best known for her philosophical novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, first wrote Ideal in 1934 but set the novel aside, writing it as a play instead. More than eight decades after she first wrote it, Ideal will be the first Rand novel published in nearly 60 years.

Lee’s Go Set a Watchman will break the reclusive author’s silence when it’s released on July 14, 2015. It tells the story of an adult Jean Louise Finch, nicknamed Scout, returning to her childhood hometown to visit her father, Atticus Finch, a lawyer who in To Kill a Mockingbird defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.

“I, along with millions of others around the world, always wished that Harper Lee had written another book. And what a brilliant book this is,” Michael Morrison, president and publisher of HarperCollins US General Books Group and Canada who negotiated the deal for Lee’s second book, says in the press release.

Soon after the announcement, Twitter was flooded with reactions—and alternate titles—for Lee’s second novel, the To Kill a Mockingbird sequel readers never thought they’d get.