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Second Harper Lee novel to be published in July

Harper Lee completed “Go Set a Watchman” in the mid-’50s.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/file 2007

NEW YORK — ‘‘To Kill a Mockingbird’’ will not be Harper Lee’s only published book after all.

Publisher Harper announced Tuesday that ‘‘Go Set a Watchman,’’ a novel the Pulitzer Prize-winning author completed in the 1950s and put aside, will be released July 14. Rediscovered last fall, ‘‘Go Set a Watchman’’ is essentially a sequel to ‘‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’’ although it was finished earlier.

Reactions ranged from euphoria to skepticism that the new book will be of the same quality as ‘‘Mockingbird.’’ Biographer Charles J. Shields noted that Lee was a ‘‘beginning author’’ when she wrote ‘‘Watchman.’’

The 304-page book will be Lee’s second, and her first new work in print in more than 50 years, among the longest gaps in history for a major writer.

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‘‘In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called ‘Go Set a Watchman,’ ’’ the 88-year-old Lee said in a statement issued by Harper. ‘‘It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’) from the point of view of the young Scout.

‘‘I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn’t realized [the original book] 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.’’

Financial terms were not disclosed. The deal was negotiated between Carter and the head of Harper’s parent company, Michael Morrison of HarperCollins Publishers.

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According to publisher Harper, Carter came upon the manuscript at a ‘‘secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ ’’ The new book is set in Lee’s famed Maycomb, Ala., during the mid-1950s, 20 years after ‘‘To Kill a Mockingbird’’ and roughly contemporaneous with the time that Lee was writing the story. The civil rights movement was taking hold in her home state. The Supreme Court had ruled unanimously in 1954 that segregated schools were unconstitutional, and the arrest of Rosa Parks in 1955 led to the Montgomery bus boycott.

‘‘Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus,’’ the publisher’s announcement reads. ‘‘She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.’’

Lee herself is a Monroeville, Ala., native who lived in New York in the 1950s and returned to her hometown. According to the publisher, the book will be released as she first wrote it, with no revisions.

By Tuesday afternoon, ‘‘Watchman’’ was in the top 10 on Barnesandnoble
.com, representing a flood of preorders in just a few hours. The publisher plans a first printing of 2 million copies, on par with a novel by John Grisham or Stephen King but fewer than were printed for later books in the Harry Potter series.

‘‘To Kill a Mockingbird’’ is among the most beloved novels in history, with worldwide sales topping 40 million. It was released July 11, 1960, won the Pulitzer Prize, and was adapted into a 1962 movie of the same name.

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Although occasionally banned over the years because of its language and racial themes, ‘‘Mockingbird’’ has become a standard for reading clubs and middle schools and high schools. The absence of any other books from Lee only seemed to enhance the appeal of ‘‘Mockingbird.’’

Lee’s publisher said the author is unlikely to do any publicity for the book. She has rarely spoken to the media since the 1960s, when she told one reporter that she wanted ‘‘to leave some record of small-town, middle-class Southern life.’’