As I write this, a week has passed since Harper Lee died. I’ve spent those days thinking about what the famed author of To Kill a Mockingbird meant to me.
Like J.D. Salinger, another favorite of mine, Lee was almost as famous for being reclusive as for her work. What is it about famous people who hide from the spotlight that appeals to us?
It’s not just authors. People have been obsessed with other recluses as well. Howard Hughes and Greta Garbo come to mind. I never held the same fascination for millionaires or actresses though. Because I’m a writer, have always wanted to be a writer, then I am most interested in the lives of other writers.
My guess is that the writing profession has a higher ratio of introverts than other occupations. Feature and profile writers may spend a lot of time interviewing others. Television writing is largely a collaborative effort. But as a rule, writing is a solitary occupation.
So, it’s understandable that you might see more writers who are introverts. Myers-Briggs says that I’m about as introverted as you can get.
Was Harper Lee’s fame why people were quick to label her a recluse? Did she become more famous because she spent time away from the limelight?
To answer, you only have to pick up a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her imagery brings the town of Macomb alive. We know Scout, Jem, and Dill. The tension around the Radley house and the courthouse is palpable. Our fear of Boo turns to the joy of knowing Boo. And who could ignore gems like:
- You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.
- Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
- (Real courage) It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.
Until this past year, Harper Lee didn’t publish another book. There have been many rumors about Go Set a Watchman that indicate that it wasn’t her idea to publish it. I’ll admit that the idea that someone may have taken advantage of her has kept me from reading it. But I also know that someday I will read it. Because Harper Lee wrote it.
Perhaps, Harper Lee didn’t publish any more books because the fear of matching what she had already done was just too much. Maybe she disliked all the attention. Or maybe she had already said it all.