Exploitation of Harper Lee

 

Harper Lee

Readers and writers the world over are abuzz with the news that Harper Lee is releasing a novel.

Doing the very thing she swore to the Barefooted Jesus she would never do.

It has been a well-known fact that Harper Lee, now 88,  has been in poor health since suffering a bad stroke. Those who know her best say that Harper Lee is deaf, blind and confined to a wheelchair.

One gushing commentator on the Huffington Post said that they never ever expected Harper Lee to publish another book.

With good reason.

Harper Lee never had any intention of releasing another book. Her exact wording on the matter: “Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood.”

That’s the position she took throughout her literary career. I have friends who attempted to gain Lee’s cooperation on book projects. She was always kind about it, but always turned them away.

This article in The Atlantic also raises the question of why the sudden change of heart.

According to Marja Mills, another unauthorized biographer, Harper was worried about how she might be exploited in the future. She reportedly told Mills: “Nelle suggested that perhaps she could toss all her belongings in there and burn them, preferably shortly before she died, so she wouldn’t have to worry about her personal things falling into the wrong hands. She was only half kidding.”

Not surprising then that only a few months after her sister Alice Lee (Harper Lee’s longtime protector ) died, that an unpublished manuscript shows up and hotdang! Harper Lee has had a change of heart. She up and decided that a stance she has taken throughout her long literary career was oops! wrong! And by golly, she’s amazed and humbled to be publishing another novel. (Does anyone else find the wording “amazed and humbled” coming from Harper Lee odd?)

Or so said the press release put out by Lee’s publisher, HarperCollins.

Of course, the publisher also said that they had not spoken directly with Lee. All their communication had been through Lee’s attorney.

Here’s the wording from that press release:

“I hadn’t realized it [the original book] had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it,”  Lee said.

We, the public, of course, have no idea at all whether Lee actually said these words or if these are just the words her attorney said she said.

I don’t doubt for a moment the authenticity of the manuscript, although certainly there will be those smarter than me who will, and perhaps should.  And unless Lee had actually taken all her belongings and thrown them into a ravine and set them ablaze, one would expect that at some point after she dies that anything Lee wrote before or after “To Kill a Mockingbird” would make its way into the hands of the general public.

Well-regarded Alabama Historian Wayne Flynt believes that the manuscript is totally legit. Flynt says that Lee is in support of this.  “I don’t think anyone would have done this without Nelle’s full knowledge and consent.” 

A woman certainly has the right to change her mind, even when she is in poor health. Perhaps this is Harper Lee’s parting gift to us. But given the decades she spent adamantly rejecting the idea of publishing any other work, and avoiding the limelight, it does seem odd that she’s had an about face.

Now.

Perhaps it’s a matter of timing.

A news story by Al.com reports that residents of Monroeville are having difficulty believing Harper Lee reached this decision on her own. They suspect this decision is Carter’s, not Lee’s. “I don’t think she agreed to do it. I think it’s her attorney being greedy, because Ms. Lee was a very private person who didn’t like a lot of publicity,” said Janet Sawyer, owner of the Courthouse Cafe in town.

My own inbox has filled up with messages from Monroeville. citizen sums up her concerns this way:  “Nelle is being taken full advantage of. She is not in charge of anything that has to do with herself.”

But if my Facebook feed is any indication the general public pretty much feels like Harper Lee owes another novel to us, her faithful fans

Somebody stands to make a load of money from all this. The print run is two million copies. Pre-orders in 24 hours have made it the #1 selling book.

Financial terms were not disclosed. The deal was negotiated between Carter and the head of Harper’s parent company, Michael Morrison of HarperCollins Publishers. “Watchman” will be published in the United Kingdom by William Heinemann, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Lee lives in an assisted living center in her hometown of Monroeville, the real-life model for the fictional town of Maycomb of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” A longtime friend said she is deaf, blind and in poor health, spending much of her time in a wheelchair. She was last seen publicly in November at the funeral of her older sister, Alice Lee, who long represented the author and was known for being protective of her.

Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham acknowledged Tuesday that the publisher had had no direct conversations with Harper Lee, but communicated through Carter and literary agent Andrew Nurnburg.

Harper Lee has no husband, children, grandchildren or apparent heirs, and likely doesn’t need any money given that “To Kill A Mockingbird” is has been a bestseller since its publication. Besides, if she was motivated by money, wouldn’t she have pulled that manuscript out of storage a long time ago? That she didn’t ought to tell us something.

So who stands to benefit?

Well, for one, Carter, that dear friend and attorney, who reportedly over the years has managed to cut Lee off from all of her longtime friends and, some suggest, even her sister during those last years. Carter has a troubling reputation among the locals of Monroeville. This was from an article in Reuters, Nov. 2, 2013:

 

Since Alice’s retreat into a nursing home, Harper Lee has battled a variety of legal issues, including the son-in-law of her first agent who was accused of trying to trick her into signing away her original copyright. They recently reached a settlement.

In Monroeville, the only active lawyer remaining in the venerable law firm of Barnett, Bugg, Lee and Carter is Tonja Carter. Old friends described getting notes from her saying they could no longer visit Miss Nelle because of her infirmities. “It hurt,” said Therrell. “I took her and Miss Alice my potato soup every Thursday for years.”

Carter did not respond to requests seeking comment for this article. An attorney for Lee in New York confirmed that the law firm spoke frequently with her, but declined to discuss the case further.

 

Of course, this will be a windfall for the publisher and bookstores.

And us, the readers who have loved Harper Lee since we first read her and saw something of ourselves in Scout. We will once again know the joy of reading Lee.

But before we go rejoicing, perhaps we ought to feel a tad bit troubled by the possibility that Harper Lee is being exploited, or at the very least manipulated. Her sister Alice said in 2011 that Lee will sign anything put in front of her.

“Poor Nelle Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.” Letter from Alice Lee in 2011 regarding a document that Harper Lee’s attorney, Carter, had her sign.

All this might not bother us now, but rest assured it might come back to haunt us when we are dealing with the long-term affects of aging.

 

What is elder abuse?

Elder abuse is recognized as a continually increasing and serious problem in our society. Unfortunately, due to under-reporting, variations in the definition of elder abuse, and the absence of a nationwide uniform reporting system, it is difficult to determine the scope of this issue. The National Center on Elder Abuse distinguishes between seven different types of elder abuse. These include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial/material exploitation, neglect, abandonment, and self-neglect.
  • Physical abuse. Use of physical force that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment.
  • Sexual abuse. Non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly person.
  • Emotional abuse. Infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or non-verbal acts.
  • Financial/material exploitation. Illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets.
  • Neglect. Refusal, or failure, to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an elderly person.
  • Abandonment. Desertion of an elderly person by an individual who has physical custody of the elder or by a person who has assumed responsibility for providing care to the elder.
  • Self-neglect. Behaviors of an elderly person that threaten the elder’s health or safety

Book Karen

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Gold Star Daughter. Trump will never be my president.

49 Comments

Rhonda Waller

about 2 years ago

If I trust anyone's take on this issue it's Karen Zacharias' and she gives us a lot to think about.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

Thank you, Rhonda

Reply

Juliette Lee Adams

about 2 years ago

Thanks for this post. I feel very sorry for Harper Lee. I truly feel she's being taken advantage of. A few years ago, while at lunch with a friend of mine, we overheard Miss Alice Lee talking with a man about Harper "Nelle." Back then, Nelle was in the nursing home and doing her best to recover from a stroke. That was three years ago, I think. I doubt she is in any condition to make statmeets to the press, etc. now. I honestly think going against someone's very specific wishes for your own personal gain is despicable.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

Headed to Monroeville tomorrow (July 25).

Reply

Shaewc

about 2 years ago

I am a resident of Monroeville, having lived here since I married 21 years ago. Monroeville natives have always been fiercely protective of Ms Nelle's privacy. I actually attended church with Ms Nelle for quite a while and didn't even know it. I have refrained from commenting on the Tonya (Tonja) Carter issue in the past because I don't have firsthand knowledge of the things being said, but the press release yesterday really upset me. I, too, feel in my heart that Ms Nelle is being exploited, and I am angry that it seems nothing can be done. You've heard the old saying where there's smoke there's fire? All I can say is that the smoke is so thick around here you can't see your hand in front of your face. I HAVE talked to individuals who were abruptly cut out of the Lee sisters' lives with NO notice or reason given. All after Tonya Carter got involved. And these were people who were fond of the sisters, provided various services or needs, had NO financial stake or were in no way taking advantage. I have also read quotes in various interviews/articles from personal friends who were blocked access suddenly. It seems to me they were isolated from the very friends and community that protected them so fiercely for so many years.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

She has always been a very private person so from that standpoint nothing should surprise us. However, I think whenever a person who has suffered ill health is then isolated or cut off from longtime friends and associates and minister, when the only person who is able to speak on their behalf is an attorney with vested financial interests, then, yes, I think there is reason for concern.

Reply

Georgiabelle

about 2 years ago

In every state there is an agency similar to child protective services, only for adults. In Alabama it's called Adult Protective Services and its primary function is to investigate cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation of at-risk adults, like Ms. Lee. Ms. Lee's friends need to pick up the phone and report this potential exploitation of a vulnerable adult to the authorities. The phone number for Monroe County Adult Protective Services is 251-743-5933. FlagShare

Reply

J. coggin

about 2 years ago

I too lived in a small town. I know no secrets exist. Seems to me a citizen with good. intentions would start a move to get a legal move to stop what appears to be total abuse of one of their precious elder citizens. Just a thought!

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

Advocacy works for a lot of things but a community movement seems like the wrong approach for this particular situation.

Reply

Steve Stacey

about 2 years ago

Miss Lee does in fact have family in Monroeville. I have never known them to seek publicity. The lone comment to this site from a person who lives in Monroeville comes from a person who moved into the town. Much of the negative reporting, I dare say, all of the negative reporting related to Mrs Carter began after she moved to protect her clients, the Lee sisters, from being exploited by local people, including the Monroe County Heritage Museum. Write not what you think....write not what you are told....write what you know and keep your nose out of the affairs of others. Leave the woman in peace. She owes you nothing.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

Steve: You know there is two sides to that Monroe County Museum controversy, which, as I understand it, wasn't a controversy until Ms. Carter became involved. Seems odd, doesn't it, that if there were legal issues with the Museum that Alice Lee wouldn't have dealt with those forty years ago.

Reply

Joe

about 2 years ago

Whoa, you're quoting NBC's Brian Williams as an expert on Lee's health? When did he ever lay eyes upon her let alone receive his medical degree?

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

And he is not a reliable source on this matter because?

Reply

AVB

about 2 years ago

Here's a pretty compelling reason to find him unreliable in general, if not specific to this topic: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/brian-williams-admits-that-his-story-of-coming-under-fire-while-in-iraq-was-false/2015/02/04/d7fe32d0-acc0-11e4-9c91-e9d2f9fde644_story.html?tid=sm_fb With regard to the content of this blog, I find it to be careless at best and potentially unprofessional at worst. And just as you're entitled to take to your own blog to air your own thoughts and accusations, however unsupported they may be, I'll take to my own later to explain the damage that I believe recklessness such as yours can cause. Tonja Carter is a person. She is actually a dear friend of mine. You've characterized her unfairly here, and perhaps worse than that, you've done so with little to no actual knowledge of the facts. You're not alone, though, and because of the country's collective affection for Miss Nelle, I can understand your desire to be certain that she's not been taken advantage of. You're free to write what you like, of course, and Tonja has little recourse when things like this are said about her. Maybe there's a better way, though, or more precise words you could have chosen, to articulate your concern without being needlessly hurtful or offensive. Just a thought.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

I had missed this report on BW and am sorry that I did, especially as a Gold-Star daughter. Such a lack of integrity. I don't see how he still has a job. So, good on you for pointing out my error and setting me straight on BW. I will defer my comments away from him and redirect them back to Alice Lee, who herself noted her sister's declining state of health in 2011. I don't know Tonja Carter so perhaps I have unfairly characterized her. But as to the facts, there have been plenty of documented reports, some which I have quoted here, that have called into question Ms. Carter's influence over NHL.There are of course, always better ways of writing. I do the best I can, correcting as I am corrected, and with as much truth-telling as I have access to, which is really all any journalist can do. There has been plenty written about HL's decline. And that press release put out by TC and HC was an easy mark. Anyone who has taken an entry-level marketing class recognizes it as being disingenuous and not at all reflective of NHL. I think we all are thrilled by the idea of another book from Harper Lee. The questions that troubles most of us, however, is how is it she came to change her mind about a matter she has spent a lifetime upholding?

Reply

AVB

about 2 years ago

I'm not coming back to be a bother; there was one substantive correction I wanted to make. The quote you've included above -- “Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood.” -- is taken out of context. She made that remark in response to Marja Miller's assertion that her unauthorized biography of Lee had been written with her permission and cooperation.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

It is a quote consistent over NHL's lifetime of insisting that she would never publish another book. So hardly out of context. Quite within the context of her life, actually. What is inconsistent is a quote that says, “I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.” Really? Why would NHL be humbled or amazed by this. To Kill a Mockingbird has been on bestseller lists for over 50 years. Publishers have clamored her entire life long for her to publish another book. She surely was keenly aware of how eager all of her fans were to have her publish again. Humble and amazed don't even sound like words NHL would use when speaking about the possibility of publishing another work. Certainly in all of her prior decades there is no report of her ever expressing anywhere the same sort of sentiment expressed in this press release.

Reply

Patsy

about 2 years ago

To solve the question as to whether an outsider (lawyer) is forcing publication of the book for personal gain or profit perhaps any profits not used for Mrs. Lee's care and then profits after her death should go to a charity. If the lawyer can not possibly profit true colors will show

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

Good idea. Hadn't thought of that. But if say they donated all the proceeds to a literary non-profit or college, or reading program, that would be saying something.

Reply

Angie

about 2 years ago

I recently read THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR , and I was thinking it was odd that she never mentioned this "lost" manuscript to the author, Marja Mills, who became friends with her.

Reply

Kate Thompson

about 2 years ago

Perhaps she did. "The Mockingbird Next Door" is hardly a sensational book, in the sense of revealing new and exciting things about Harper Lee. I can think of only a couple negative pieces of info about Lee that Marja Mills mentions in her book. Mills claims to have conferred with Lee about what Lee wanted to reveal about herself in this book, and given the nature of the book's material, I'd say that Mills pretty much followed Lee's direction. If Harper Lee told Mills that she'd written another book but asked her not to mention that in "The Mockingbird Next Door," I think Mills would have respected that.

Reply

Rm

about 2 years ago

Harper Lee doesn't have children of her own, but she does have at least one niece and one nephew, one of whom lives in Monroeville.

Reply

adsimpson

about 2 years ago

I am a lifelong resident of Monroeville. I assure you that the Monroeville residents have never sought to exploit the Lee sisters. They are loved by our small community. If one truly knows Ms. Harper Lee than one would know that she has stuck to her word these years about another book. Had she wanted it published, she would have done it years ago when she was well. It is quite alarming that at her age and state, she has decided to publish this sequel to TKAM.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

Yes, that has been her position for decades now. And I think that is what is troubling people. That only a few short months after her sister's death, she's had the rather abrupt and surprising change of heart.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

Ill be in Monroeville tomorrow (July 25th). Feel free to contact me: zachauthor@gmail.com

Reply

Emily Bell

about 2 years ago

I had the pleasure of attending the Monroeville literary luncheon in 2012 where she made a surprise appearance. It was just her and a young woman who was obviously a healthcare aid. Wayne Flynt still sees her as does George Landeggar. Both of these gentlemen are very protective of her, in fact George nearly body blocked Fanny Flagg from Nelle's table at that luncheon - I had to say "That's Fanny Flagg"! I personally don't believe that she is being taken advantage of from what several different people have mentioned to me. The quote “Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood" was actually is reference to any book about HER, in the aftermath of that woman who wrote "The Mockingbird Next Door".

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

Speaking of George, and his concern for Harper Lee, a resident of Monroeville sent this tidbit to me today: http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/January15/LandeggerGeorgePleaPR.php Makes for interesting read, Emily.

Reply

James Clark

about 2 years ago

Perhaps people should read the comments of respected historian Wayne Flynt of Auburn. He has known the author for years and visits her frequently. He sat with her just a few days ago and found her lucid and enjoyable. They had a conversation about the fact that To Kill A Mockingbird remains a best seller after 55 years. Amazing how the line about her being deaf and blind has spread throughout the social media world, even though absolutely NO ONE who has written it has actually see or spoken with Harper Lee. Just because she is a very private person doesn't mean she is a victim. Those who really know her, believe she is not being victimized.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

I think Mr. Flynt's conversation on NPR today raises more questions than it answers. Doesn't it seem odd that the day before this huge news release, she forgot to mention it to her good friend?

Reply

Charlene Alexander

about 2 years ago

I just recently found out that Miss Lee lived in Monnroville Al In my talking with someone from that area. Talk was that she might not have written TKAM COULD IT BE POSABLE that she didn't write this book. She inherited all ffrom her sister. Could it possible that her sister wrote the book and now the book will be published under Miss Lee's name.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

I don't believe for a moment that she did not write TKAMB. She wrote it. And I believe the manuscript for the prequel is something she wrote as well. For me the issue isn't the credibility of Harper Lee but rather the credibility of those reportedly acting on her behalf.

Reply

Annette Riggs

about 2 years ago

I was so excited thinking about another Harper Lee book that I failed to consider what I know to be true about Ms. Lee. I have, at different times over the years, read some of the things you quoted from Ms. Lee, also about her physical condition. I may have to rethink my pre-order of the book. As much as I would like to read it if it is published, it just feels wrong when you think about it's being done without her approval.

Reply

Marc Strickland

about 2 years ago

Truman Capote wrote it (wink) ;))

Reply

Sandra Millar

about 2 years ago

Should check out the article on NPR today. For the facts.

Reply

JesseS

about 2 years ago

Yes, the facts, like the quote from her friend Wayne Flint who said no one else was in the room when her lawyer discussed the book with her: "And Flynt is willing to give Lee's lawyer the benefit of the doubt. "That interplay is an interplay totally beyond my knowledge and totally beyond anybody else's knowledge," he says. "That is: No one was in the room with the lawyer and [Lee] at the time any of these negotiations or signings went on. And so, until someone shows me some evidence and not some rumor, I have no reason to doubt the lawyer's concern about what is best for Harper Lee."

Reply

Anne Hendricks

about 2 years ago

Do you think the passing of her sister recently may have "found" this manuscript by the estate and handed it to the wrong people? Because her sister is reported to have had numerous things in a library and possessions of Miss Harper.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 2 years ago

All the news reports say that the manuscript was 1) found after Alice Lee died 2) that is was found in archival material attached to a manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird. The question of who is looking out for Harper Lee in the wake of her sister's death is the issue being raised by many voices. I think a lot of people feel uneasy whenever the person closest to an elderly person who has suffered health problems is a lawyer with power of attorney

Reply

Emily Bell

about 2 years ago

Agreed! One thing I'd like to point out is that she is not a recluse. She doesn't talk to the media and so she was given that label years ago. For years, she lived her life just as all of us do - grocery shopping, church, restaurants, etc . . . The event where I saw her was the annual Alabama Writers Symposium where they hand out the award named after her for the Alabama Writer of the Year. A day or two before, she asked to go and even asked if she could have one of the awards! It is an attractive bronze replica of the top of the old Monroe County courthouse. The artist had an extra one hand so they presented to her. Although she did not address the group, she clearly enjoyed being the belle of the ball.

Reply

concerned

about 2 years ago

No truer words have been spoken Karen! It is a shame when someone takes advantage of an elder the way this Tonia person has and is doing. "A dear friend" my hinney! With friends like that who needs enemies right? Everyone in Monroeville knows what is going on but rest assured in time she WILL be exposed!

Reply

Marylee Smith

about 2 years ago

I am perfectly confident that Wayne Flynt's assessment of Harper Lee's situation is correct in all respects. He and his wife have been personal friends of Nelle's through many years and visit her often. And Wayne is a creditable person, has as much knowledge as anyone concerning the situation and is completely trustworthy in his remarks.

Reply

Bo

about 2 years ago

Thank you for writing this story. Please, please keep your attention on this. Based on the facts I've read on this article as well as many others, something smells extremely fishy. I'm a lawyer and would never want to be in a position like the one Carter has gotten herself into. Something feels unprofessional about what has happened. Another article mentioned something about how Carter notarized Lee's signature on some document in 2012-2013ish. Lawyers can notarize documents, but they shouldn't. And a lawyer with a client like Harper Lee definitely shouldn't be the one notarizing her documents. How shady is that? Something doesn't feel right about this. It doesn't pass the smell test. It feels like Ms. Lee is getting taken advantage of. You simply don't make a decision not to publish a second book over and over again throughout your life and career only to change your mind when you're in a retirement home. Sure, it can happen, but under these kinds of circumstances? Even if Carter doesn't have anything to gain financially from Lee's decision to publish this second book, she's already gained enough by being the one to "discover" Harper Lee's second book. She's already become a story herself. This isn't what a lawyer is supposed to do.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

Interesting that Carter had Lee's will sealed. Wish I could get my hands on a copy of that.

Reply

Karen Spears Zacharias

about 9 months ago

No it's not. I'll be in Monroeville tomorrow (July 25). Interesting that the will was sealed to prevent the public from knowing because why???

Reply

Ryanne

about 2 years ago

This piece is DEFINITELY points to consider. I offer a few more facts and an alternative point of view. To say the least, it's all a really GREAT mystery. I enjoyed reading your take. http://statuteofryanne.com/2015/02/06/undue-influence-by-harper-lee-attorney/

Reply

Libby Ware

about 2 years ago

This "found" manuscript, about an adult Scout who looks back on events from her childhood, was the draft that Ms. Lee sent to her publisher. Her editor advised her to take the references to the past and make a book about those events and the revised ms. became TKAM. So now a completely unedited ms will be a book. This "book" should remain an archival item or at least marketed as such.

Reply

Kathleen Kelly-Kowalczyk

about 2 years ago

Tonja Carter should be disbarred. What a shame what she has done to the memory of To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee. All for greed.

Reply

Kate Thompson

about 2 years ago

Monroeville residents: Miss Nelle's sister Louise and brother Ed had children. Are they in your area? Can they work to get power of attorney away from Tonja Carter?

Reply

BB

about 1 year ago

Am sure your readers are aware that Miss Lee's will has been sealed, the first one ever sealed in Monroe County and an action most attorneys have never encountered in a lifetime of practice. Could it be that Mrs. Carter finds herself an heir to the Mockingbird fortune? The aging Prof. Flynt's story becomes stranger and stranger the more he is interviewed and he now declares Mrs. Carter sent the manuscript off to the publisher before informing Miss Lee of the discovery...or that was the story he related a few weeks ago in a presentation in Alabama.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Please be polite. We appreciate that.
Your email address will not be published and required fields are marked