Was Harper Lee's New Book Actually Found In 2011?

by Caitlin White

Just when you thought the Harper Lee controversy couldn't get any murkier, there are now reports that Lee's Go Set a Watchman manuscript was actually found years earlier than Lee's lawyer reported. Lee's former agent Samuel Pinkus claims to have seen the manuscript in October 2011 during a meeting with Justin Caldwell, a rare books expert from Sotheby's auction house in Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. However, when the official publishing announcement of Go Set a Watchman was made in February, Lee's lawyer Tonja B. Carter said she "discovered" the manuscript in a "secure location" earlier this year.

The two differing stories get another healthy dose of shade when you remember that Carter, on behalf of Lee, fired and then sued Pinkus over the copyright to To Kill a Mockingbird in 2013. The event kicked off a series of events that concerned friends and Monroeville neighbors about Carter and her potential influence over the aging literary titan, including the lawsuit against a beloved hometown museum. It's a controversy that has stuck through the announcement of Go Set a Watchman's release, July 14.

Pinkus' meeting with Sotheby's auction house allegedly took place at a local bank where Lee kept items in a safe-deposit box. (Carter's "secure location"?) Caldwell claims to have looked at two items that day: First, a publisher's proof of To Kill a Mockingbird and second, a typescript of a story set in Maycomb and featuring Scout Finch and other Mockingbird characters, only much later in their lives. Which sounds strangely like the official description of Go Set a Watchman by HarperCollins.

Although Carter does acknowledge the meeting between Pinkus and Caldwell, she says in a statement to The New York Times that she was neither present during the encounter, nor did she hear anything about discovering a manuscript:

If Sam [Pinkus] discovered the 'Go Set a Watchman' manuscript at that time, he told neither me nor Miss Alice nor Nelle.

"Nelle" is Lee's nickname; Alice is Lee's late sister, who before Carter, managed Lee's affairs. Carter said she was dismissed from the meeting to run an errand, however, both Pinkus and representation from Sotheby's released statements claiming that Carter was not only present for the entirety of the meeting, but that she, too, read from the now-titled Go Set a Watchman manuscript.

This discrepancy between accounts of the manuscript discovery are sure head-scratching.

So, if Pinkus and Sotheby's are accurate, why did Carter hold off on publishing the manuscript until this year, four years after it was found? Carter has long been the focus of debate over Go Set a Watchman's publication, with many friends, neighbors, and readers arguing that she is taking advantage of the author — a claim Lee herself has briefly but vehemently denied — particularly in the wake of Alice's death in 2014. Now, many are left wondering if Alice, Lee's longtime representative and often seen as her protector, was against publication of Go Set a Watchman, and perhaps that's the reason for Carter's delay.

However, even all of this controversy can't stop sales. Go Set a Watchman recently broke records, becoming the most pre-ordered book in HarperCollins history.