Harper Lee Sues Her Literary Agent
May 10, 2013

Harper Lee Sues Her Literary Agent

When I was a teenager, I first read To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s one and only masterpiece. This was the book that propelled me into American Literature. Because of To Kill A Mockingbird, I went on to study American Literature and now teach it on a regular basis. I have used excerpts from To Kill A Mockingbird in composition classes, written essays about the legendary book and author, and reread it several times. It is definitely one of my top ten favorite books of all time.

The book focuses on the story of Atticus Finch, a defense attorney for a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. The story is told through the eyes of Finch’s children, Scout and Jem. The characters are quite possibly some of my favorites of all time. In fact, I call my friend’s kid Scout as a name of endearment because of this book. And the story is incredible—a story that highlights social injustice, prejudice, and the law.

Now, it is the contention of a legal case. Harper Lee is suing her literary agent, Samuel Pinkus. Pinkus is the son-in-law of Lee’s long-time agent Eugene Winick. Lee became Pinkus’ client when Winick became ill in 2002. According to the lawsuit, Pinkus diverted several of his father-in-law’s clients to his own company, including Lee. In 2007 the issue of the lawsuit took place.

According to the lawsuit, and thus Lee, Pinkus “engaged in a scheme to dupe” her into reassigning the novel’s copyright to himself without any payment. She alleges that Pinkus took advantage of her failing hearing and eyesight to do this. Furthermore, she says she has no memory of verbally agreeing to this nor does she remember signing the agreement. She further purports that he has failed to respond to any license requests, e-book rights, and a request for assistance related to the book’s 50th anniversary.

Lee’s lawsuit asks the court to assign any rights owned by Pinkus to Lee and requests that he hand over any commission he took from 2007 onwards.

It saddens me to read this. If Pinkus did in fact take advantage of Lee like this, how could he? Not only is she elderly, but she is an American Icon. I mean, President George W. Bush recognized her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom because of her “outstanding contribution to America’s Literary tradition.” Lee’s only contribution is To Kill A Mockingbird. This novel should not be entwined in a legal mess at all, ever. Its name should not be sullied because of greed.

Of course, we do not know Pinkus’ side. Perhaps there is an explanation to his actions. I do not know what that could be, but perhaps he has one. Only when we know his side will we be able to adequately understand this sad state of the literary world. Until then, though, we can only speculate.

I love reading. I love books. I do not like that one of the books that most impacted my life is involved in such yuckiness. Okay, I know that is not a word, but I do not know how else to say it. It is just yucky legal issues, greed, and taking advantage of each other…or at least trying to. I hope that this comes to a good, right end. I hope that To Kill A Mockingbird will not bare the scars of this legal battle. I hope that good will win out. I hope.

Image Credit: Faberart / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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