‘How I Found the Harper Lee Manuscript’Posted: July 13, 2015
Much has been said lately about the discovery of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ and when it occurred. Here’s the full story…
Tonja B. Carter writes: Accidents of history sometimes place otherwise unknown people in historic spotlights. Such was my fate when last August curiosity got the best of me and I found a long-lost manuscript written by one of America’s most beloved authors. The manuscript was titled “Go Set a Watchman,” and its author was Harper Lee.
“As Nelle’s estate trustee, lawyer and friend, I would like to tell the full story, fill in any blanks that may be in people’s minds, and provide a historical context for those interested in how this book went from lost to being found.”
In the time since it was announced that “Watchman” was found and Harper Lee—or Nelle, her first name, used by family and friends—decided to have it published, much has been said about how it was found, who found it, who knew of its existence, and when it was first found. As Nelle’s estate trustee, lawyer and friend, I would like to tell the full story, fill in any blanks that may be in people’s minds, and provide a historical context for those interested in how this book went from lost to being found.
The story begins in June 2011 when Sam Pinkus, who was Nelle’s literary agent at the time, contacted her sister, Alice, and asked that he be allowed to examine and inventory Nelle’s assets. Alice, who has since died, was an attorney and until the last few years of her life handled most business matters for Nelle, who lives in an assisted-living facility. Mr. Pinkus was particularly interested in having the original manuscript for “To Kill a Mockingbird” examined and appraised. He said he needed to open Nelle’s safe-deposit box, where it was assumed the manuscript was held.
The box was opened some months later, on Oct. 14, at a bank in Monroeville, Ala., Nelle’s hometown and mine. Present that day: Mr. Pinkus, Justin Caldwell, an appraiser from Sotheby’s, who came to Monroeville at his request, and myself. Nelle’s safe-deposit box contained several items, including an old cardboard box from Lord & Taylor and a heavy, partially opened but tightly wrapped mailing envelope sent from Lippincott, the original publishers of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” to Alice Lee and postmarked Jan. 3, 1961.
“The story begins in June 2011 when Sam Pinkus, who was Nelle’s literary agent at the time, contacted her sister, Alice, and asked that he be allowed to examine and inventory Nelle’s assets.”
The Lord & Taylor box contained several hundred pages of typed original manuscript. After we all read a couple of pages, someone mentioned that the first page was not the first page of “Mockingbird,” but rather seemed to be a later chapter. I was then asked to retrieve a copy of the “Mockingbird” book so that Mr. Caldwell could compare what actually ended up in the book with the first page of the manuscript. After returning with a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I then left the meeting and didn’t return. According to recent press reports, Mr. Pinkus and Mr. Caldwell spent about an hour examining the documents.
The next day I received an email from Mr. Caldwell, the Sotheby’s appraiser, saying “it was so nice to meet you yesterday and to get to see that manuscript.” He made no mention of the existence of a second, unknown book. And the following day, Sam Pinkus wrote to me that “Nelle is under no obligation to Sotheby’s whatsoever, including no obligation for Nelle to sell or auction the items.” Again, no mention of a second book.
Why does any of this matter? Roll things forward to less than two weeks ago, as the publication of “Go Set a Watchman” neared.
The New York Times published a story on July 2 describing these events in ways very different from how I remember them and in ways not reflecting the emails sent to me by Mr. Pinkus and Mr. Caldwell. According to the Times story, “The ‘Mockingbird’ item turned out to be a publisher’s proof, not a particularly valuable item. The other [item] was a typescript of a story that, like ‘Mockingbird,’ was set in the fictional town of Maycomb and inhabited by the same people.”
I don’t know, of course, what Mr. Pinkus and Mr. Caldwell found during their hour with Nelle’s safe-deposit-box contents. But what I do know is….(read more)
Ms. Carter is a partner in the law firm Barnett, Bugg, Lee & Carter LLC based in Monroeville, Ala., and is the trustee of the estate of Harper Lee.
- The To Kill a Mockingbird Sequel’s First Printing Will Be 400 Times Bigger Than the Original (punditfromanotherplanet.com)
- Agency Ends Probe Into Publication of New Novel ‘Go Set a Watchman’ by ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Author Harper Lee (punditfromanotherplanet.com)
- Book Review: In Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’ Atticus Finch Defends Jim Crow (punditfromanotherplanet.com)
- Harper Lee To Publish Second Novel (dailycaller.com)
- Harper Lee may have a third novel in her safe-deposit box (mashable.com)
- Harper Lee may have written a third novel: lawyer (rawstory.com)
- Go Set a Watchman: mystery of Harper Lee manuscript discovery deepens (theguardian.com)