As millions of us have pre-ordered our copy of Go Set a Watchman, by none other than To Kill A Mockingbird’s author, Harper Lee, there are new concerns about the Pulitzer Prize winning author who gifted us one of the best classics to ever go to print. And it’s as unsettling and heartbreaking as you might think.
A Bit of History
Before we delve into current charges, let’s consider what’s happened in recent years. In 2007, Lee filed a lawsuit against her former literary agent, Samuel Pinkus. She claimed that he took advantage of her declining state of health and confused her into signing over royalties associated with Mockingbird. If you’re wondering what that looks like in dollars, it comes to $1.5 million annually. That’s how popular and timeless and incredible Mockingbird is. Sadly, Lee trusted this man, who is her best friend’s son in law.
Lee had suffered a stroke in 2007 and while she was already in declining health, the stroke further added to that and she claims Pinkus leaped at that opportunity. The suit read, in part, “Pinkus knew that Harper Lee was an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see” and he deliberately sought to take advantage of her,” and what Lee signed gave Pinkus control over “Mockingbird’s copyright and royalties. She says she has no recollection of signing anything.
Harper Lee a Victim of Elder Abuse?
Now, with news of Watchman being released (she wrote it even before Mockingbird), her lawyer is in the crosshairs and many are concerned she’s once again being targeted. Tonja Carter is the attorney representing her and the details are disturbing at best.
First, we’ve not heard anything at all from Lee, but rather, we’ve seen the pressers that Carter put together for release. She insists her client is a ‘strong, independent woman’ who is upset about reports of being duped and having to defend decision-making regarding the release of Watchman.
There does exist a troubling resemblance to financial elder abuse. According to Elder Justice Coalition, there are more than a few unanswered questions. There has been no direct communication from Lee. One spokesperson said, “Everything seems to be going through the publisher or through the lawyer. They’re putting words that are attributed to her over something that’s very important, obviously, to her from an intellectual property perspective, which strikes people as a little odd, especially having come out of nowhere after so many years and coming after the person who had been her primary advisor passed on.”
The Lawyer Speaks
Carter says Lee should be “enjoying the discovery of her long lost novel”. Lee knew where the novel was all these years: safely tucked away in a lock box that no one even knew about except Lee and her sister, who recently died. The only person who “discovered” anything was Carter.
Lee is quoted as having said, “I hadn’t realized it had survived, so 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 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 is and always has been adamant about her introvert lifestyle. She has never had many friends –by choice as she’s simply a private person (and always has been). She’s always been cautious about who she allows into her circle and frankly, it’s just not like her to use words such as “delighted” or “pleased” or “worthy”. That sounds simplistic, but again, even if you’ve never met her, it doesn’t take much to find her interviews, few as they were. She has always known where it was stored. Lee has never been one to share her works with anyone, even if she wondered about its worthiness for publication. In fact, her publishers begged her to release it when it was written 55 years ago.
As this continues to unfold, Lee remains in her Alabama assisted living facility; she’s both deaf and blind. The real tragedy would be to discover this book is being published with her having no knowledge of it at all; and until we hear it from her, it looks as though that’s exactly what’s happening.