It's a Little Embarrassing That Twitter Got This Wrong About Harper Lee
Tuesday's announcement that To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee will, after 55 years, publish a sequel to her acclaimed novel was surprising to many, including BBC North America Editor Jon Sopel, who tweeted the news—but made one crucial error that got Twitter talking.
Immediately, followers corrected him on his mistake—that Lee is not a man but a woman. As it turns out, Sopel wasn't the only Twitter user confused about Harper's gender.
Clearly all those years in education and studying English has taught me nothing- I've only just found out Harper Lee is a woman— Charlotte Robertson (@charlotterobby) February 3, 2015
When publishing To Kill a Mockingbird, winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize in fiction, Lee dropped her first name, Nelle. Instead, she published under her middle name, the more androgynous Harper.
The literary world has, all too often, been dominated by male voices—which could only have inspired other famous female authors to publish under deceiving monikers. In Victorian England, Mary Anne Evans became known as George Eliot when she penned Middlemarch. The Brontë sisters originally published under the names Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell. Charlotte Brontë explained the sisters' choice by stating that they "had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice."
More recently, author J.K. Rowling, born Joanne, published with an initialed name to appeal to the intended audience for her Harry Potter series: young boys. Her most recent novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, was written under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith.
On her website, Rowling stated that she chose to use a male name "to publish without hype or expectation" and to get "feedback from publishers and readers" that was unassociated with her previous writings.
That so many readers had, until today, mistaken Harper Lee for a man was disappointing to some.
Somewhat disheartening to see the amount of people that assume Harper Lee is a man. Female achievement/success is genuinely unexpected. Sad.— Ellie Lee (@ellieleeee) February 3, 2015
It was confusing for others.
I Still Don't Know If Harper Lee Is A Man Or A Woman And At This Point I'm Too Afraid To Ask— Blake Lyman (@BLymanWarrior) February 3, 2015
More surprising still, some were shocked to find out not only that Lee is a woman but that she is still alive.
Two things I didn't know this morning:- 1) Harper Lee is a woman 2) She's not dead— Asa Joseph (@asajoseph) February 3, 2015
At 88, Lee is indeed very much alive—and her long-anticipated return to the publishing world, Go Set a Watchman, is set to be published in July.