"She's very much engaged in the process," Burnham said. He hasn't personally spoken to her, but he said her agent spent two days with her in January and reported back that she was "feisty," "full of good spirits," and reading voraciously. Lee won't be doing interviews or other publicity when the book comes out, but Burnham said Harper may ask her to write a new introduction.
In the announcement Tuesday, the publisher provided a statement in Lee's name. She recalled that when she turned in the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman, her editor asked her rewrite the book from the perspective of Scout as a child. "I was a first-time writer, so I did what I was told," Lee said in the statement.
Burnham wouldn't disclose the terms of the publishing deal with Lee. Set for release on July 14, Go Set a Watchman will have an initial print run of 2 million copies, which he said was at the level "of a major best-seller."
Here's a transcript of our interview with Burnham, edited for clarity and length.
Russell Berman: Without spoiling it, what can you tell us about Go Set a Watchman?
Jonathan Burnham: It’s set 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, which takes place during the Depression. This takes place during the mid-1950s during a turbulent time in American racial politics. There was civil unrest, which particularly affected the South and Alabama, and that’s part of the background for this novel.
Scout, who’s now a grown-up woman living and working in New York City, goes back to the town where she was born and revisits old friends and family and sort of encounters old ghosts and comes up against new ideas and opinions. It’s a complicated, very adult novel that sweeps in family, politics, love, the South. It’s an extraordinary work.
Berman: To Kill A Mockingbird is a staple in American school classrooms. When you say it’s a “very adult novel,” does that mean it wouldn’t be suitable for schoolchildren to read?
Burnham: I think it could be read in schools. The protagonist in this case is an adult woman. It has a different feel to it, obviously. Mockingbird is told from the point of view of Scout, who is 12, so it’s a different angle and therefore probably more accessible to younger readers. But I think younger readers will respond to this too.
Berman: Is this accurately referred to as a sequel, or is it—as some scholars had suspected—an original draft of To Kill A Mockingbird? How much overlap is there between the two?
Burnham: There’s virtually no overlap. It’s a difficult thing to qualify. In a way, it’s a pre-sequel, if that could exist. None of the material from Go Set A Watchman can be found in To Kill A Mockingbird. All the scenes are new. The writing is new. There are occasional idioms or sentences that already exist. There are some references back to the years of To Kill A Mockingbird, but nothing that comes to reckon on the book. So it’s in every respect a different novel. It’s not a draft of To Kill A Mockingbird.