This Tuesday, July 14, marks a huge new day in literary history. The 14th, as all fans of "To Kill a Mockingbird" know, is the release sate for the long-awaited second novel by Harper Lee.
First written in 1943, "Go Set a Watchman" was actually the first novel to be written by young Harper Lee, then the young daughter of the most prominent attorney in Monroeville, Alabama.
Though barely in her early twenties, young Harper had already traveled to New York City, where she quickly became radicalized by the Marxist politics of the bohemian set. "Watchman" was informed by such politics and thus was deemed too sensational by publisher Joseph Fox, who suggested Lee write a tamer story using the same characters in youth.
The resulting rewrite became a beloved literary sensation. "Watchman," by contrast, is a far more incendiary novel, tracing the development of Scout, Lee's thinly disguised alter ego, as she grows from a naïve Alabama tomboy into a bomb-throwing, leftist-sloganeering radical.
The novel's climax ends on an explosive note as Scout destroys a Greenwich Village munitions factory in order to protest the execution of a fiery black radical who happens to be her former lover.
To this day, many Mississippi literary connoisseurs are embittered by the prominence of "Mockingbird" in the popular mind, due to the fact that the book's plot and characters owe a heavy debt to Faulkner's "Intruder in the Dust."
The geographical and literary tensions generated by Lee's book spilled over into physical violence in 1983, when a football game between Old Miss and The University of Alabama turned into an all-out brawl, sending three linebackers to the hospital and resulting in the death of an Old Miss running back Chucky Mullins.
As he lay dying on the Old Miss sidelines, Mullins uttered these famous words: "Every man who perishes on the same fields upon which his family toiled dies not the death of a single man but instead the death of the aspirations of a thousand toiling families.
"He expires not that he should die in vain, but instead that a thousand future generations might know the value of sacrifice, might generate an example to a thousand new generations, each one imbued with a sense that their own descendants might know the twin meanings of sacrifice and endurance, might protect them until the last dying breath has expelled upon a cottonfield of forgiveness and memory: the long memory of a thousand wars of existential struggle and a thousand cries of newborn southern brotherhood and womanhood. So thought an old black man as he strode down these dusty dirt roads a hundred years ago.
"His name has been forgotten, but his words and his fragile eyes have not. eyes that spoke of a half-millennium of experience and half-whispered understanding."
Asked to comment on these extraordinary final words, Alabama Crimson Tide coach Ray Perkins said, "Oh, that is bullshit."