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Harper Lee's acerbic response to one journalist's letter sent to test her lucidity

The To Kill A Mocking Bird author's plans to release a sequel saw reporters clamouring for answers as to the circumstances of the deal

Jenn Selby
Thursday 05 March 2015 13:08
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When Harper Lee first announced the release of a To Kill A Mocking Bird sequel, there was some speculation that the author, 88, may well have been pressured into the publishing deal.

Her late sister Alice, a lawyer who administered Lee’s affairs, wrote in 2011: “Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.”

In a statement about the concerns, Lee said she was “happy as hell” with her plans for Go Set A Watchman. And those in any further doubt as to her lucidity need only look to journalist Connor Sheets, who received a very acerbic response to his letter asking for details surrounding the new novel.

“I wrote a two-page letter to Harper Lee, following up on my repeated attempts to reach the beloved novelist via her lawyer, publisher and even by visiting her nursing home on the outskirts of Monroeville, Alabama,” Sheets wrote for Al.com.

While he hadn’t expected a reply, he hoped that Lee would be able to confirm she was “fully in control of the destiny of Go Set A Watchman” and that she would be able to “clear up all the questions the world has been waiting to have answered” about the circumstances of the book's release.

“On Wednesday, I received an envelope without a return address, made out to ‘Conner Sheets.,” he continued. “I opened it without fanfare, only to find my letter, wrinkled and refolded, with four words and one punctuation mark scrawled in cursive Sharpie at the bottom: ‘Go Away! Harper Lee.’”

His story was supported by that of the New York Times. The publication wrote: “To those who chase her, who can't leave well enough alone, she has developed a standard response to their proposed interviews: 'Not just no, but hell no.'”

The novel was written before To Kill A Mockingbird but was rejected by publishers who set her to work on the novel that made her famous.

The new book revolves around the now-adult Scout's return to her native Alabama from New York to visit her father.

Lee previously said she had not realised the manuscript of her new book had survived and said she was “humbled and amazed” it was going to be published now.

Go Set A Watchman will be published on 14 July by William Heinemann, the original UK publisher of To Kill A Mockingbird.

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