Harper Lee’s career was as prestigious as it was short. The enigmatic author whose award-winning first novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” won the Pulitzer Prize before she decided to eschew fame, never following the novel with a second one.
Now 85, Lee resides quietly in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., and hasn’t granted an interview in 50 years — not even to Oprah. If she were to give one, the question that any reporter would certainly ask: Is there a second book?
It was a question Washington Post columnist Winzola McLendon asked Lee 52 years ago. Shortly after the publication of “Mockingbird,” Lee answered: The second book was on its way.
Nobody Mocks ‘Mockingbird’ Author: Sales are Proof of Pudding
By Winzola McLendon
Nov. 17, 1960
When Harper Lee wrote her first novel — the bestseller “To Kill a Mockingbird” — she chose what was for her the “most natural subject in the world.”
“That is what we live with every day of our lives,” the 34-year-old Southerner said yesterday while discussing “Mockingbird” — the fictional account of a small South Alabama town’s racial problems.
Miss Lee, who is in town to attend a 3 p.m. autographing party today at the Francis Scott Key Book Shop in Georgetown, is actually named ”Nelle Harper Lee.” But she dropped the “Nelle” because it is spelled with an “e” and she says, “They’d call me Nellie.”
Born and raised in Monroeville, Ala. (a small town near Mobile), Miss Lee has written short stories, essays and sketches since she was a child. But she never tried to publish any of them.
“Mockingbird” was written and submitted because some friends dared her to. Do the friends like the results of the dare? “They bought it and that’s proof of the pudding,” claims the author.
Now, she’s back in Monroeville writing another book. The subject of the new novel is a well guarded secret between the author and her publisher. But we’ll go out on a limb and predict that it will involve a thrilling murder and a suspense-filled trial.
When interviewed in her Mayflower Hotel suite yesterday, Miss Lee admitted that she likes to read about murders (both in case histories and in literature) and that she’s been reading dozens of books on English law.
As all Lee fans know, that second book remained a secret. TV critic Hank Stuever, in his review of the PBS documentary documentary “Hey Boo,” which aired Monday, has a theory why:
“Why didn’t she write more? Assuming there are no finished manuscripts neatly arranged on a credenza awaiting posthumous publication, “Hey, Boo” offers some solace ... as its interviewees muse on the courage it takes to know when to quit.”
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