As the literary world awaits Tuesday’s publication of Harper Lee‘s long-awaited second novel Go Set a Watchman, the prequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, Yahoo Global News anchor Katie Couric sat down with Reese Witherspoon and others involved in the project.
The actress, who has been tapped to record the audio version of the forthcoming novel, tells Couric she’s in awe of Go Set a Watchman, which features Mockingbird‘s Scout as an adult woman living in New York City in the 1950s.
“It shocked me, as being a modern woman in 2015, reading some of the words. I had to keep reminding myself it was written in the ’50s, and these were the complex issues that people of the day were dealing with,” she says. “And old attitudes and modern thinking was just evolving about race relations in our country. So I think you will feel all that complexity in the piece.”
Lee’s long-lost manuscript, which will be the first work she’s published since 1960, was discovered in a safe deposit box last August by the author’s lawyer, Tonja Carter, and later passed along to publishing house HarperCollins, the publisher of To Kill a Mockingbird.
“Nobody quite knew where it was. The author, Harper Lee, didn’t know where it was,” says Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Burnham says the book was unedited when Lee’s literary agent and Carter came to them after consulting with Lee. “Jean Louise, who is Scout as a grown woman, is a 26-year-old girl working in New York City who goes back to her home town of Maycomb and visits her father, strikes up old friendships, visits characters that we remember from Kill a Mockingbird,” he explains. “It’s the story of that particular visit and what happens on that visit.”
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Lee’s first novel, published in 1960, was an instant sensation, winning her a Pulitzer Prize. It was later made into an Academy Award-winning film.
“I thought she was extremely courageous to write that book about her hometown,” says Mary Tucker, a retired African-American schoolteacher from Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, who lived through segregation. “Of course, she said it was fiction but we could identify some of the characters from people in town.”
Rick Bragg, a former New York Times journalist and bestselling author from Alabama adds of Lee, “She wrote the story that explained us to ourselves. A lot of us, you know, were not piebald racists. A lot of us knew that the cruelty that came to light in our region was dead wrong. But she put it in a story.”