Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee

Professor and historian Wayne Flynt (Keeping the Faith) first met Nelle Harper Lee in 1983 when the press-shy author of To Kill a Mockingbird spoke at an Alabama heritage festival. A friendly correspondence (with occasional visits) began in 1992 and continued until Lee's death in 2016.

Mockingbird Songs collects both sides of their correspondence, and Flynt begins each chapter with succinct background information on the letters to follow. Lee may have avoided the spotlight, but her letters reveal a devilishly funny, well-informed and gracious participant in life. Far from being a recluse, Lee lived half of every year in the Manhattan apartment she bought in the 1960s. "She was not one to excuse misstatements of fact, suffer fools gladly, silently dismiss literary misquotations, or allow anyone to invade her space without invitation," Flynt writes. But, she was also "empathetic, warm, nonjudgmental and a wonderful conversationalist."

A stroke in 2007 slowed her down but didn't affect her faculties. Her letters have precision and punch. She recalls her complicated friendship with Truman Capote, stating, "I was his oldest friend and I did something Truman could not forgive: I wrote a novel that sold." She also delighted in the success of the 2015 publication of Go Set a Watchman, her first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, knowing that it presents a less romanticized version of Atticus Finch (and her father).

Mockingbird Songs is a sliver of an epistolary biography, but it towers over dry and unauthorized bios of Harper Lee thanks to her strong, compelling and entertaining voice situated center stage. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

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