NEW YORK (Reuters) - Surprise, eager anticipation and a tinge of skepticism surrounded the news that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee would publish a second novel half a century after "To Kill a Mockingbird" became an American classic.
Until Tuesday when publisher Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, announced it would publish "Go Set a Watchman," on July 14, few knew the book existed and even its 88-year-old author had thought it had been lost.
Written in the 1950s before Lee penned her masterpiece, it only came to light after her lawyer discovered it with the original manuscript of "To Kill a Mockingbird."
"How often does the publishing industry have the rare opportunity to publish a second work of an author whose promise was so great but who never completed a second project?" said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the director of the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
The book, he added, will revisit some of the best-known characters in American literature and film, and a subject that was timely and critical in the 1950s.
"To Kill a Mockingbird," a novel about racism and injustice in the American South, became an instant best-seller and has since sold an estimated 40 million copies worldwide. It was also made into an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck as the lawyer Atticus Finch.
Although written first, "Go Set a Watchman," features Finch 20 years later as his adult daughter Scout returns to visit him in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama.
When Lee handed in the manuscript she was persuaded by her editor to write a novel from the point of view of a young Scout, which became "To Kill a Mockingbird."
News of the second book comes just months after the death of Lee's sister Alice, a lawyer who represented her interests for decades. The timing has sparked questions about how much input Lee, who has difficulty hearing and seeing, had in the decision to publish it.
"I have some concerns about statements that have been attributed to her," author Marja Mills told the New York Times.
When Mills published "The Mockingbird Next Door," a memoir about her friendship with the sisters, Lee's lawyer said it was not sanctioned. But Mills said she received letter from Alice Lee saying both sisters supported the book.
Lee's lawyer Tonya Carter, who negotiated the publishing deal, could not be reach for comment.
(Editing by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Richard Chang)