There have been several author deaths in the past few weeks.
AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR Margaret Forster, who wrote more than 40 books after her 1960s bestseller Georgy Girl, died this past month at age 77. Forster’s husband, the writer and journalist Hunter Davies, reported her death at a hospice near her north London home.
Forster, a former teacher, was one of the UK’s most prolific writers, producing more than 20 works of fiction and a host of award-winning nonfiction titles after the success of her 1965 novel about a young woman adrift in swinging London. Georgy Girl was made into a film starring Lynn Redgrave in the title role, alongside Charlotte Rampling, Alan Bates and James Mason, and featuring a song which was recorded by the Australian group the Seekers, and became an international chart-topper. It was listed at number 36 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Pop Songs of all time”.
Forster interspersed her novels with books about literary figures such as Thackeray and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and had a beady eye for a good story. It was her 1993 biography of Daphne du Maurier that first revealed the novelist’s complicated sexuality, and her obsessions with women, notably the actress Gertrude Lawrence.
UMBERTO ECO, The Italian scholar and best-selling author of novels such as ‘The Name of the Rose‘ also died this month in Milan at age 84.
AND THE THIRD AUTHOR death that I have information about is the death of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee at age 89. Lee won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1961 for To Kill a Mockingbird and was much in the headlines last year when a previously unknown manuscript was discovered and published in the summer as Go Set a Watchman.
In a statement released Friday morning, Michael Morrison, president and publisher of HarperCollins U.S. General Books Group and Canada, publisher of Mockingbird and Watchman, said, “The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to—in private—surrounded by books and the people who loved her. I will always cherish the time I spent with her.”
Lee’s agent, Andrew Nurnberg, also released a statement. “Knowing Nelle these past few years has been not just an utter delight but an extraordinary privilege. When I saw her just six weeks ago, she was full of life, her mind and mischievous wit as sharp as ever. She was quoting Thomas More and setting me straight on Tudor history. We have lost a great writer, a great friend and a beacon of integrity.”
Among the many accolades she earned in her life, Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. To Kill a Mockingbird has sold 40 million copies worldwide, and the publication of Go Set a Watchman was the publishing event of 2015. The book was the bestselling book of the year, selling nearly 1.6 million copies in print.
For Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books in Oxford, Miss., To Kill a Mockingbird is unquestionably one of the most “beloved stories in all of American culture.” He says that Mockingbird is one of the rare works to have achieved as much critical success as commercial success. That the book earned such a prominent perch in this country’s collective imagination—a staple on school reading lists, as well as bestseller lists—became both boon and burden for a woman who scorned fame and prized privacy.
Published in 1960, the book has sold some 40 million copies to date, making it one of the biggest-selling American novels ever. The fact that its author who hoped her early flirtation with literary stardom would be fleeting, and largely disappeared from public life after the book was published, only contributed to the mystique.
Having successfully stayed out of the limelight for most of her post-Mockingbird life, Lee became the center of national attention again last year, when HarperCollins announced it would be releasing a new novel by her. Although Go Set a Watchman was not actually new—in fact it was an early/ rejected first draft of Mockingbird—its publication became one of the biggest industry stories of 2015. Of course, Watchman also became a huge hit: It was the bestselling print book of 2015, moving 1.6 million copies, according to Nielsen BookScan.
Reese Witherspoon, who narrated the audio edition of Go Set a Watchman, said, “[Lee] revealed it all… the glory and the fear and the hate and the beauty.” While Oprah Winfrey, who selected Mockingbird for her book club, said on Twitter that Lee was her “1st favorite author,” adding that Lee’s response to Winfrey’s request for an interview was, “Honey, I already said everything I had to say.”
And now, a tidbit from next week’s feature story:
NOT SINCE 1999 have two titans of the best-seller lists clashed so spectacularly. Back then, novelist Nora Roberts, already a juggernaut with 35 million books in print, sued Janet Dailey, one of the most successful romance writers of the late 20th century, for copying passages and ideas from her published works. The two authors settled out of court, but followers of the genre still talk about the case; Roberts described the experience of being plagiarized as “mind rape.”
So it’s not surprising that when No. 1 New York Times best-selling author Sherrilyn Kenyon sued No. 1 New York Times best-selling author Cassandra Clare, filing a complaint of copyright and trademark infringement on Feb. 5, the news spread fast. At issue, to the puzzlement of many observers, isn’t word-for-word plagiarism, but what looks like Kenyon’s attempt to claim ownership of some of the most archetypal themes in popular culture (“an elite band of warriors that must protect the human world from the unseen paranormal threat,” for example). And egging Kenyon on is a legion of implacable Cassandra Clare detractors who have had it in for the YA phenom since her apprenticeship years in the notoriously toxic subculture of Harry Potter fandom.
Kenyon has been publishing several interlocking series of paranormal romances under the aegis Dark-Hunter since 2002. Clare writes urban fantasy for young adults; her best-known series is a six-book sequence titled the Mortal Instruments, the first of which, 2007’s City of Bones, was made into a (not very successful) Hollywood film in 2013. Both Kenyon’s and Clare’s series feature secret societies of supernatural crusaders tasked with protecting the unsuspecting human race from predatory demons. Kenyon’s are “dark-hunters”; Clare calls her group “shadowhunters.”
Currently, Mortal Instruments is enjoying a TV reboot as a series titled Shadowhunters on the cable channel Freeform (formerly ABC Family). By all appearances, the TV series precipitated Kenyon’s complaint (the text of which has been posted online by romance novelist and former attorney Courtney Milan), but her grievance has been stewing for a long time. According to the document, 10 years ago, “distressed fans” informed Kenyon that Clare was shopping a manuscript for a first novel (eventually published as City of Bones) in a projected series about a group she called “darkhunters.”
I’ll have more next week on the drama surrounding this lawsuit and what people are saying about both Cassandra Clare and Sherrilyn Kenyon.