It's a Little Embarrassing That Twitter Got This Wrong About Harper Lee

It's been decades since the author introduced America to life in the South, but it sounds like she still needs an introduction to many.

Pulitzer Prize winner and 'To Kill a Mockingbird' author Harper Lee. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Feb 3, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Ashley Jakubczyk is an editorial intern for TakePart.com and a graduate student at Harvard University. She has also written for Thought Catalog,The Daily Bruin,The Daily Breeze, and Peninsula People magazine.

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.

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.

It was confusing for others.

More surprising still, some were shocked to find out not only that Lee is a woman but that she is still alive.

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.