An insider’s portrait of the beloved author.
Flynt (Emeritus, History/Auburn Univ.; Keeping the Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives, 2011, etc.) received his first letter from Nelle Harper Lee (1926-2016) in 1992. Over the years, they became dear friends, and this book collects their correspondence. Flynt provides revealing portraits of the very private Nelle and her sisters, Alice and Louise, and her close relationship with the Flynt family. Like the bird that inhabits the title of her famous novel, Lee was “complicated and independent” and highly protective of her family. However, as Flynt found out, once she could trust him, she was neither cold nor uncommunicative but rather “empathetic, warm, nonjudgmental, and a wonderful conversationalist.” Her letters are often chatty, funny, and satirical. The correspondence explores racial issues, personal matters, and the state of Lee’s health, but there’s also a good deal of material literary buffs and fans of Lee will enjoy. Her “literary idol” was Jane Austen. She loved Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It and read C.S. Lewis “voraciously.” Eudora Welty, she writes, was “my goddess, and with Faulkner, I think are the TWO.” Although Lee was ill, she did approve the publication of Go Set a Watchman and was especially pleased with its sales and the money she was making. Even though she was Truman Capote’s “oldest friend,” she knew he told others he had a hand in writing To Kill a Mockingbird, which grew out of a short story she had written. With a touch of glee, she writes, “I did something Truman could not forgive: I wrote a novel that sold.” He “nursed his envy for more than 20 years.” Lee calls biographer Charles Shields, whom she refused to cooperate with, a “creep,” and she was livid when she found out he had included her New York City address in it: “bush-league.”
A thin but welcome snapshot of the ‘real’ Lee.