2015 One Book Steamboat series set to have unique insight on “Go Set a Watchman” novel | SteamboatToday.com

2015 One Book Steamboat series set to have unique insight on “Go Set a Watchman” novel

Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman" is this year's One Book Steamboat community read. It is the first book Lee has published in over 50 years.

— With the controversy surrounding Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee's newly published novel, "Go Set A Watchman," it's difficult to say which story is valid.

Last Wednesday, however, Steamboat Springs had the opportunity to hear a different side of the story.

Schedule of One Book Steamboat events

Oct. 7: Screening of the newly updated award-winning documentary, “Hey Boo" — Bud Werner Memorial Library, Library Hall, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 15: An evening with Harper Lee biographer Charles Shields — Bud Werner Memorial Library, Library Hall, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 28: One Book Discussion: Go Set a Watchman — Bud Werner Memorial Library, Conference Room, 5:30 p.m.

Steamboat Springs resident Steve Hofman was invited as part of the Bud Werner Memorial Library's One Book Steamboat community read, which the library presents each year for six weeks with readings and discussions about a selected book.

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Hofman said he received a call from a friend who is also a long-time family friend of Harper Lee — known to friends and family as Nelle. Hofman’s friend said some of Lee's friends and family had recommended that someone help her with thinking through the issues surrounding publication of "Go Set a Watchman.” Literary publication was something he had been involved with for many years.

"First and foremost, the publication of ‘Go Set A Watchman’ is a significant publishing event in the literary world because, since "To Kill A Mockingbird" came out over 50 years ago, there was always this understanding or thinking that Harper Lee never wrote another novel and never would write another novel," said Chris Painter, director for the Bud Werner Memorial Library. "’Watchman’ has created such a buzz in the literary world, and we felt it would be exciting to have our community get involved in reading and discussing it, especially because some of the characters are portrayed in a different light."

Due to Lee’s age — she’s 89 — and her numerous medical problems, the book's unexpected and controversial publication aroused questions as to both the timing and whether it should have been published at all.

After Alice Lee, Harper Lee’s sister, attorney and business manager, passed away in November at 103, Tonja B. Carter said she discovered the "Go Set a Watchman" manuscript in Lee's safety deposit box in the autumn of 2014, according to the initial announcement about the novel's publication.

However, speculations emerged when Carter was said to have had a meeting in 2011 with one of Lee's former agents to see what was in the box and if the original manuscript for "To Kill a Mockingbird" was there. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Carter wrote she had to leave that meeting early, and the ‘Watchman’ manuscript was left undiscovered at that point in time.

"As far as Nelle was concerned, she thought ‘Watchman’ was thrown out years ago," Hofman told the audience at the Bud Werner Memorial Library. "My sense was that ‘Mockingbird’ was such an instant hit that Watchman was put to the side, and then I think she thought it got lost. We don't know if Alice didn't want it published or not. But as soon as Nelle found out it was still there, she wanted it published.

"… The other thing is, people change their minds. I'm not going to get into her mind on that sort of thing, but I do know this: If Nelle didn't want ‘Go Set a Watchman’ published, she would've thrown me out of her apartment two minutes after I arrived, because we were there talking about supporting ‘Watchman’ and her, and that's what she wanted."

When Hofman went to Alabama to spend time with Lee, he began to understand what "Go Set a Watchman" meant to her.

To "set the record straight" on how the manuscript was found, Hofman said he helped Lee get the safety box examined the right way, with an able professional who could adequately handle and record the documents.

"It was exciting to hear his take on it, especially with the controversy in the news," said Katie Carroll, Steamboat local who attended the event Wednesday. "It was able to provide a first-hand account of going in and meeting her and what she is like. It was nicer to hear from someone rather than reading about it in articles."

Hofman supplied a print out showing images and manuscripts from the contents of Lee's safety deposit box. The documents found there, Hofman said, were early drafts of "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the unedited manuscript of "Go Set a Watchman."

In 2010, Lee's famous novel, "To Kill A Mockingbird" was selected as the One Book Steamboat novel in light of its 50th anniversary. One of the events surrounding the book's anniversary was a presentation from Mary McDonagh Murphy, who created the award-winning documentary "Harper Lee: Hey, Boo.” McDonagh Murphy spoke from a filmmaker's perspective after years of interviews and personal conversations with Lee.

She has since updated the content of the film based on the publication of "Go Set a Watchman." At 6:30 p.m. Oct. 7, there will be a free screening of the film at the library, and McDonagh Murphy will speak via Skype about the newly added content and what she learned in acquiring this content.

At 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15, the library will present an evening with Harper Lee biographer Charles Shields, who wrote the critically acclaimed book "Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee." Shields is one of the few people who knew of the existence of Lee's manuscript. He will also share stories about Lee's childhood in Monroeville, Alabama, examine the murder trial that inspired "To Kill a Mockingbird" and discuss "Go Set a Watchman."

"These speakers have had different relationships with Harper Lee, and it brings an inside look with really fascinating, rich information for our audiences," said Painter. "We are very excited. This is absolutely a dynamic triage with these speakers."

The library will also host a book club discussion of "Go Set a Watchman" on Oct. 28. For those interested in reading the novel, Painter said there are 50 copies circulating nonstop for check-out. There are also copies of the book for sale at Off the Beaten Path.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

Schedule of One Book Steamboat events

Oct. 7: Screening of the newly updated award-winning documentary, “Hey Boo” — Bud Werner Memorial Library, Library Hall, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 15: An evening with Harper Lee biographer Charles Shields — Bud Werner Memorial Library, Library Hall, 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 28: One Book Discussion: Go Set a Watchman — Bud Werner Memorial Library, Conference Room, 5:30 p.m.

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