Book Shows ‘Mockingbird’ Author Harper Lee’s Personal Side

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In the world, Harper Lee was aloof to the point of being unknowable, an obsessively private person who spent most of her life avoiding the public gaze despite writing one of the best-selling books of all time, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. For Wayne Flynt, the Alabama-born author was his friend, Nelle.

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Flynt, a longtime Southern historian who befriended Nelle Harper Lee late in her life, wrote her second book about the author, ‘Afternoons with Harper Lee,’ which was released with Flynt on Thursday. signing copies at a suburban bookstore birmingham.

Based on Flynt’s notes from dozens of visits with Lee over a decade before his death in 2016, the book is like sitting on a porch and hearing stories about Lee’s childhood and family in Alabama. rural, his later life in New York and everything in between. That includes the time a grandfather who fought for the Confederacy survived the Battle of Gettysburg despite heavy casualties for his Alabama unit, according to Flynt.

“I said to him, ‘You know, half of the 15th Alabama was either killed or wounded or captured, and he got away? Is it just luck or God’s providence? What is that ? said Flynt in an interview with The Associated Press.

“And she said, ‘No, it’s not God’s providence. He could run fast.

This cover image published by NewSouth Books shows “Afternoons with Harper Lee” by Wayne Flynt. (NewSouth Books via AP)

The public perception of Lee as a hermit is wrong, said Flynt, a former history professor at Auburn University. No, she didn’t do media interviews and she zealously kept her life private, but she was also warm and kind to her friends, including a former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, Flynt said. And Lee was “deeply religious” in a way that many people aren’t, he said.

“It’s an attempt to tell the story of the authentic woman, not the marble lady,” Flynt said.

The book is also a tribute to Flynt’s late wife, Dartie, who died in 2020. Lee, who suffered a stroke in 2007, seemed to identify with the physical struggles of Dartie Flynt, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, Flynt said.

“I think she tolerated me because she loved Dartie,” he said.

Born in 1926 when the South was still racially segregated by law, Lee grew up in the southern Alabama town of Monroeville, the daughter of an attorney who served as a role model for attorney Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, a breed story. , injustice and the law in Jim Crow times. The town itself became Maycomb, the setting of the book.

Preferring football, softball, golf, and books to small-town social affairs or college sororities, Lee’s well-known desire for privacy may stem in part from a sense of being different from others growing up around of her in the South, Flynt said.

“I think she occupied a world where she felt she wasn’t like the other girls,” he said.

A childhood friend of fellow author Truman Capote, Lee was rarely heard from in public after her part-autobiographical “Mockingbird” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and became a hit movie. She mainly lived in an apartment in Manhattan, where it was easier to blend in than at home until the stroke left her partially paralyzed.

Flynt and his late wife knew Lee’s two sisters, and they became close to the author after he returned to Alabama for good after the stroke. They visited her at a rehabilitation center in Birmingham and then at an assisted living facility in Monroeville, where she spent years before her death. Lee died just months after the release of her novel “Go Set a Watchman,” which was actually an early version of “Mockingbird.”

The book does not touch on the most intimate aspects of Lee’s life; Flynt said they just didn’t discuss such things. But he recounts the worsening of his isolation due to deafness and blindness towards the end of his life; his love of the game; the fury over “Watchman”; and his authorship of an as yet unpublished manuscript on a bizarre murder case in central Alabama.

Lee was steeped in literature and religion, Flynt said. She preferred the King James Version of the Bible to all others for its lyrical language, he said, and her favorite authors included Jane Austen and C. S. Lewis.

“When she died, on her ottoman in her two small rooms, was the complete anthology of all CS Lewis books. He must have weighed 50 pounds,” he said.

“Afternoons With Harper Lee” is a sequel to Flynt’s “Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee”. While the first book was based on letters in between, the new book is more meandering and conversational than the first in the tradition of Southern storytelling.

“The letters are lifeless compared to the stories,” he said.

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