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Revisiting an American classic: the potential of ‘Go Set a Watchman’

President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author Harper Lee during a ceremony Monday, Nov. 5, 2007, in the East Room.
White House photo by Eric Draper / Public Domain

“To Kill a Mockingbird” cemented Harper Lee’s place in the list of classic authors of American literature almost as soon as it was published in 1960. “Mockingbird,” with its frank and poignant handling of race and discrimination in the U.S. South, electrified a nation as the Civil Rights Movement swelled in power. Fifty years later, Lee’s new book “Go Set a Watchman” stands to accompany a similarly meaningful time for civil rights and social justice. And at 89 years old, it will be only the second book Lee has ever published.

On July 14, Left Bank Books is hosting an all-day release party for author Harper Lee’s book “Go Set a Watchman.” The event will include a revisit of Lee’s first book “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

I’m re-reading [Mockingbird] now in anticipation of the new book,” said Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of Left Bank Books. “I’m completely captivated. It has everything in it.”

St. Louisan Ridley Pearson, a bestselling author of adult and children's books, shared his thoughts on “Mockingbird” and Lee’s forthcoming book.

“For me, there are good American novels and then there are sort of perfect American novels,” Pearson said. “I put [To Kill a Mockingbird] as one of the most perfect American novels. As a writer, it has everything in it and it’s all well done.”

“Watchmen” is expected to be similar to “Mockingbird.” However, those who know exactly what the book will be about have not released many details. According to Pearson, “Watchmen” had been sitting in Lee’s sister, Alice’s, safety deposit box and was reconsidered for publication upon Alice’s death. What is known, though, is that it was written before “Mockingbird,” and is expected to be from a different point-of-view.

“It had always been agreed, especially by Alice, that [Watchmen] would not be published,” Pearson said. “But there it was and someone [asked] Harper [if she] wanted to publish this now, and she agreed to do it.”

“I think in terms of the world of literature, it’s a big deal because there’s controversy around [Watchman’s release],” Pearson added. “But, we’re hearing, for the last time, from one of the great writers in the 20th century.”

Related Events

Left Bank Books "Go Set a Watchman" Release Party

  • When: Tuesday, July 14, 8 a.m.
  • Where: Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.