Friend: Harper Lee 'a bit overwhelmed' by book release

Harper Lee's Town Joyful, Anxious Over 'Mockingbird' Sequel

MONROEVILLE, Ala. (AP) -- Author Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville buzzed with excitement over the Tuesday release of her novel "Go Set a Watchman," the sequel to the Pulitzer Prize-winning "To Kill a Mockingbird." The town is the model for Maycomb, the setting of both books. A full day of celebrations is planned, including readings, tours and a mint julep cocktail hour outside the old courthouse.

Amid the excitement, there also was trepidation and disbelief that character Atticus Finch, the courtly model of integrity who defended a wrongly accused black man of rape in the 1930s in "Mockingbird," is portrayed as a racist 20 years later in "Watchman."

Here are some scenes from Monroeville.

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Friend: Harper Lee 'a bit overwhelmed' by book release
WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 05: Pulitzer Prize winner and 'To Kill A Mockingbird' author Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House November 5, 2007 in Washington, DC. The Medal of Freedom is given to those who have made remarkable contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, culture, or other private or public endeavors. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 05: U.S. President George W. Bush (L) greets Harper Lee (C), Pulitzer Prize winner and the author of 'To Kill A Mockingbird,' after he presented her with a Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony for the 2007 recipients in the East Room of the White House November 5, 2007 in Washington, DC. The Medal of Freedom is given to those who have made remarkable contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, culture, or other private or public endeavors. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Author of To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee, in local courthouse while visiting her home town. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Author of To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee, while visiting her home town. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Author of To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee, while visiting her home town. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Author of To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee, in her father's law office while visiting her home town. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Author of To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee with her father. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Get your first look at our cover for Harper Lee’s #GoSetAWatchman. http://t.co/AUp2W1j0lE http://t.co/SG5QBMMYLN
We are thrilled to share the official cover of Harper Lee's #GoSetaWatchman with you all! @GSAWatchmanBook http://t.co/RJlkUuhgQW
Harper Lee wrote me back today to say "Go Away!" Happy UK #WBD2015 #WorldBookDay http://t.co/GozIGKKfGf http://t.co/usnDehHSjs
Author of To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee, while visiting her home town. (Photo by Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
394238 02: Shoppers read about a Chicago program involving the 40th anniversary edition of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize winning novel 'To Kill A Mockingbird' September 10, 2001 at a Borders Books and Music store in Chicago. Borders Books and Music in Chicago is working with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Public Library in the new citywide reading initiative: 'One Book, One Chicago,' encouraging all Chicagoans to read and discuss the book during the months of September and October. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
A struggle takes place between Jem and Scout Finch (Phillip Alford and Mary Badham, centre) in a 'To Kill A Mockingbird', directed by Robert Mulligan, 1962. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
Publicity still portrait of American actor Brock Peters in the film 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' 1962. (Photo by John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images)
Left to right: Estelle Evans (1906 - 1985) as Calpurnia, Phillip Alford as Jem and Mary Badham as Scout, in 'To Kill A Mockingbird', directed by Robert Mulligan, 1962. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
American actors Gregory Peck (1916 - 2003), as Atticus Finch, and Mary Badham as Scout, in 'To Kill A Mockingbird', directed by Robert Mulligan, 1962. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
American actors (left to right) Gregory Peck (1916 - 2003) as Atticus Finch, John Megna (1952 - 1995) as Charles Baker 'Dill' Harris, Phillip Alford as Jem Finch, and Mary Badham as Scout Finch in 'To Kill A Mockingbird', directed by Robert Mulligan, 1962. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
American actor Robert Duvall as Arthur 'Boo' Radley in a promotional portrait for 'To Kill a Mockingbird', directed by Robert Mulligan, 1962. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
American actor Gregory Peck (1916 - 2003) as Atticus Finch in 'To Kill A Mockingbird', directed by Robert Mulligan, 1962. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
The lawyer Atticus Finch as interpreted by Gregory Peck, seated on the sofa together with his two children. Burbank, California, 1962. (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Rosemary Murphy sitting with Mary Badham and other children in a scene from the film 'To Kill A Mockingbird', 1962. (Photo by Universal/Getty Images)
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WHERE IS LEE?

Lee, also known as Nelle, is expected to spend the day as she usually does at the assisted-living facility where she is closely guarded and only a short list of pre-approved visitors are allowed to see her.

Wayne Flynt, a historian and author, said he visited her on Monday and handed her a large stack of news articles from around the world about the release of "Watchman."

"She chortled," Flynt told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "She's absolutely delighted. I think she's a bit overwhelmed."

While Lee's day is expected to be normal, "normal means monotonous and boring, except when you just took over the media of the entire world, in which case it's a lot more exciting," he said.

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REMEMBERING THE PAST

For some, "Watchman" is a poignant but painful reminder of the segregation and prejudice that existed in Monroeville in the 1950s.

Mary Tucker, who is black, said she remembered going into a Monroeville dress shop and being told she could only try the dress on over her clothes, not next to her skin.

"We couldn't sit downstairs at the movies, so of course we didn't go," she said.

Tucker said an Atticus Finch, who attends White Citizens' Council meetings and defends segregation in "Watchman," would have been an accurate depiction of how many prominent Monroeville men felt at the time.

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EARLY BIRD

By Tuesday morning, Alice Brantley had already read the first third of "Watchman," which was written before "Mockingbird" even though it takes place two decades later.

"It doesn't read like a first draft," she said. "But it doesn't read like a final version either."

She said she made the eight-hour drive from Denton, Georgia, for all the weekend's activities in Monroeville.

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READING FOR A CROWD

Shortly after sunrise, the doors of the Old Courthouse Museum opened and a bell tolled to mark the start of a marathon reading of "Watchman."

Among those signing up was Candy Smith, 49. She got there early after a nearly two-hour trip from Montgomery and was asked to be the first speaker in a reading expected to last eight hours.

"I love `To Kill a Mockingbird.' I didn't know if I'd get a chance to read, but I'm excited," Smith said.

The museum is dedicated to telling a story of Lee and childhood friend Truman Capote. The reading is in the old courtroom where Lee's father practiced law. The "Mockingbird" movie's courtroom is an almost identical replica of the one in Monroeville.

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DID LEE WANT TO RELEASE THE BOOK?

Before the February announcement of the discovery and release of "Watchman," Lee, who is 89 and mostly deaf and blind, had long said she wouldn't publish another novel.

Concerns linger in Monroeville over whether the publication is something Lee truly wanted.

"I don't think that Nelle, if she were really able to think as she was able to years ago, if she would have approved the book," said Mary Tucker, a former Old Courthouse Museum board member who said she used to visit with Lee at the assisted-living facility.

Flynt, the historian, dismissed concerns that the author might have been manipulated into releasing the book. He said "Watchman" provides a more complex and difficult look at race in a small southern town.

"`Mockingbird' is black and white. The morality is a child's morality. `Go Set a Watchman is an adult's morality," Flynt said.

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STILL A HERO?

The new novel traces Scout Finch's return home to Maycomb in the 1950s. She finds that her father, Atticus, has changed. News of his development came out in reviews ahead of the "Watchman" release.

"I'm nervous. I'm reserving opinion, but I'm ready to be mad. He's the epitome of the moral compass," said Cher Caldwell, a 43-year-old English teacher from Kentucky.

Judy May said she's tried to stay away from spoilers but is concerned about a different Atticus.

"Atticus has been a hero-type person through our lives here in Monroe County and the whole world actually. It would be pretty disappointing," May said. "But at the same time, you have to kind of remind yourself he was human at the time he was raised."

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THE FIRST COPIES

Before the book's midnight release, more than 200 people waited in humid summer weather for sales to begin at Ol' Curiosities & Book Shoppe.

An Atticus Finch impersonator, with glasses and a briefcase, entertained the crowd, a few of whom dressed as characters from the book.

Judy May and her sister Julia Stroud drove back to their hometown of Monroeville and snatched up the store's first two copies of "Watchman."

"I'm so excited, I'm shaking," May, 51, said as she walked outside with her hardback treasure.

The shop ordered more than 10,000 copies - in a town with fewer than 6,300 people.

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