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Harper Lee Breaks Silence Briefly

Harper Lee received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Nov. 5, 2007.

Harper Lee received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Nov. 5, 2007.

Britain’s Mail on Sunday got a much sought after exclusive recently when friends of reclusive author Harper Lee agreed to facilitate an introduction for reporter Sharon Churcher. As was mentioned in our post last week about the 50th anniversary of Lee’s singular masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, the novelist’s aversion to interviews, or any form of publicity, is a very well known part of her mystique. Mail on Sunday‘s access to the author is quite a win, though it came with a very big caveat: “Don’t mention the Mockingbird“. Churcher traveled to Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, AL for the interview, and although the author only graced her with a handful of short sentences, it was still a very memorable meeting:

“Nervously, I approach the novelist, carrying the best box of chocolates I could find in the small Alabama town of Monroeville, a Hershey’s selection costing a few dollars. I start to apologise that I hadn’t brought more but a beaming Nelle – as her friends and family call her – extends her hand.

“‘Thank you so much,’ she told me. ‘You are most kind. We’re just going to feed the ducks but call me the next time you are here. We have a lot of history here. You will enjoy it.’”

Yes, that’s it. Short, sweet, and not very revealing. Though the fact that Lee spoke to a reporter at all is fairly amazing. Churcher did better with some of the novelist’s friends and relatives, and draws a very touching portrait of Lee as a sensitive, wounded soul. Many that know the author see quite a few parallels between herself and the character Scout, the young daughter of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s father was a lawyer like the fictional Finch, but was very reserved and showed little affection to his family. Her mother was rumored to be somewhat unstable and battled with severe bouts of depression. “I don’t think Nelle’s ever been a real happy person,” says family friend George Thomas Jones. This painful past may help explain her intense need for privacy and refusal to write another novel.

In July, Monroeville will host a 50th Anniversary Celebration Weekend, in honor of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee, was of course invited to join the festivities, but will spend the anniversary at home in her apartment. “She touched the hearts of readers but I don’t think she knew much about her own heart,” says biographer Charles Shields.

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