☁ Best ✁ The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee to read ♇ Book Author Marja Mills ♏ ☁ Best ✁ The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee to read ♇ Book Author Marja Mills ♏ Chapter OneDo you want to take a trip You can say no.Tim Bannon, my editor at the Chicago Tribune, stood at my cubicle He ran the daily features section on the fifth floor of the Gothic Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago and was pleasantly low key by newspaper standards Tim knew I liked to travel for stories, and that if the story took me to an unusual part of the country, so much the better I had loved spending time at a monastery in rural Missouri for one story and at The Citadel, the military college in South Carolina, for another Tim also knew I had been out sick a lot that year, 2001 In 1995, I had been diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune condition that frequently left me fatigued I wanted him to know I was still able to do my job I purposely accepted before finding out .Sure Where to Monroeville, Alabama.Tim saw my quizzical look and smiled.Its Harper Lees hometown We know she doesnt give interviews But I think its worth going there anyway.Enough said.A couple of weeks earlier, the Chicago Public Library had chosen the elusive authors To Kill a Mockingbird as the first selection in its One Book, One Chicago program The idea was to get Chicagoans in every corner of the city reading and discussing the same book It didnt hurt that To Kill a Mockingbird happened to be the favorite of Chicago Mayor Richard M Daley, as he told me a couple of months earlier for a story I wrote about his reading habits That he was a reader at all surprised some folks His press conferences were hard to follow He didnt necessarily exit the same sentences he entered But he loved books, and he especially loved To Kill a Mockingbird In that, he was part of a phenomenon that began in 1960 and continues to this day.When the novel was published in July of that year, Harper Lee was a few months past her thirty fourth birthday From the beginning, Lee was a collection of contradictions She was an Alabama native whose love of the states back roads was matched only by her love of New York City streets Her public shyness masked a wicked wit During the publicity engagements for the novels publication, when she wasnt averting her gaze, her dark eyes could alternate between a penetrating stare and a mischievous gleam She was a distinctive blend of engaging and elusive.Lee labored for several years to produce the novel She coaxed the story out of a Royal manual typewriter in her small Manhattan cold water flat and on visits home Atticus Finch is a principled attorney and the widowed father of two children As the novel begins, his tomboy daughter, Scout, is about to turn six Her older brother, Jem, is almost ten With their father, they endure the suspicion and outright hatred directed at Atticus when he defends Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell, in their segregated town In the novels climactic scene, Bob Ewell, father of Mayella, comes after the children Boo Radley, the neighborhood recluse who has frightened and fascinated the children in equal measure, saves them.Through the experiences of Scout, Jem, and their best friend, Dill, Lee paints a vivid picture of small town childhood in the segregated South She also explores complex themes in the lives of her characters, from mental illness to addiction, racism, and the limitations society imposed on women.The story of small town childhood and racial injustice in Depression era Alabama garnered glowing reviews and stayed on the best seller list for nearly two years In 1961, Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction The Academy Awardwinning 1962 film version of the novel, starring Gregory Peck, became a classic in its own right.It was a stunning debut With time, Lees novel became something a national touchstone in a culture becoming ever fragmented In a 1991 survey, the Library of Congress asked readers which book most influenced their lives Only the Bible outranked To Kill a Mockingbird It has sold an estimated forty million copies or and been translated into three dozen languages, from Swedish to Urdu It is required reading for at least 70 percent of U.S high school students.The novel became a classic at the same time as it defied Mark Twains definition of one a book people praise and dont read References to the work appear in movies, on television, in countless other books, and in comic strips, cartoons, and lyrics People cite the novel as the reason they became writers or lawyers The characters unusual names have a comfortable familiarity even to those who havent read the novel in years, or perhaps never did Atticus Finch Scout Boo Radley The unusual names from Depression era Alabama now populate the glossy pages of People and Us Weekly, as celebrities, as well as plenty of regular folks, name their children Harper, Atticus, or Scout.As the novels cultural influence grew, so did Lees mystique A few years after the book was published, she essentially stopped giving interviews The second novel she had once discussed never appeared Her rare public appearances made headlines Her speeches, when she did accept an occasional award, usually consisted of two words Thank you When she was loquacious, she went on twice as long Thank you very much.Given her long public silence, in fact, plenty of people assumed Harper Lee was dead At age sixty six in 1993, she made dry reference to that fact in the foreword to yet another printing of the novel Lee told her readers that she was still alive, although very quiet.By the time I was given my assignment in 2001, she was seventy five In the modern world, she was as beloved and unknown as a person can be She divided her time between Manhattan and her Alabama hometown That much was known Her full name was Nelle Harper Lee but she was simply Nelle to the tight circle of friends who protected her privacy Periodic In Search of Harper Lee articles over the years offered glimpses into the authors life, if only from afar One newspaper story described the log cabin exterior and linoleum floors of Davids Catfish House, on the outskirts of Monroeville, and passed along intelligence gleaned from a waitress The author and her older sister, attorney Alice Lee, always sat at a back table They were quite hard of hearing, both of them The waitress could report, firsthand, that they squabbled about who got to pay for the other Not much else seemed to be known about her life after writing one of the most cherished novels of the twentieth century.Lees responses to the never ending requests for interviews ranged from no to hell, no Usually, her literary agency and publisher declined on her behalf In Monroeville, Alice practiced law with their fathers old firm, Barnett, Bugg s poisonous yellow berries still fall to the earth along Alabama Avenue Is the tree even still there, or those two childhood homes Does the feeling Lee captured of a small town, Southern childhood still exist For this hastily planned trip, Id submit, meekly, the standard request for an interview, knowing that was as likely as a blizzard in August Then Id fly down and try to give Chicago readers a sense of the town that produced Harper Lee and annually sells out the two act play adapted from the novel.For One Book, One Chicago, the library system was gearing up for an onslaught of interest in the book The citys seventy eight libraries were stocking their shelves with nearly two thousand additional copies of the novel, including some Spanish and Polish translations Lee declined the citys invitation to speak, but sent a rare statement in support of the program She wrote, When the people of Chicago assemble in various parts of the city to read and discuss To Kill a Mockingbird, there is no greater honor the novel could receive People of all backgrounds and cultures coming together to put their critical skills to worknothing could be exciting Like millions of others, I had read the book in school, as a shy fourteen year old who loved English, feared math, and ran on my high school cross country team in Madison, Wisconsin From the first pages, I was transported on a snowy afternoon to the red clay streets of an Alabama county seat during the Depression.Now I had an assignment, a plane ticket, and a colleague, photographer Terrence James, also assigned to the story I hadnt worked with Terrence before but Id seen him around the paper He was African American, wore black jeans and boots, and had cornrows to his shoulders He seemed enthusiastic about this assignment, as I was.Terrence and I got better acquainted on the flight to Atlanta We mapped out our assignment, where we wanted to go, and whom we wanted to see In Atlanta, we rented a car for what turned out to be a nearly six hour drive to Monroe County Atlanta was a rookie mistake I could have booked a flight into Montgomery, Mobile, or Floridas coastal Pensacola All were closer But the Atlanta flight was cheaper It didnt look as far on the map as it turned out to be The drive, however, gave us a chance to put Monroeville in a geographic context we could picture Parachuting in, as journalists often do, you miss something.We got off the interstate about a half hour from Monroeville Along Highway 84, the foliage gets thicker Elsewhere, in fact, kudzu drapes over hundred year old oak trees It crawls up ravines It creeps across the caved in tin roofs of abandoned country shacks It forms an intricate web of green so dense it seems to be hiding something.We drove up hills, wound around curves Trucks with bundles of freshly cut lumber thundered past Terrence gripped the steering wheel tighter We saw the patchwork sea of cotton fields and timberlands Lee describes in the novel Large machinery now does the picking Its faster and cheaper In To Kill a Mockingbird times, rows of men, women, and children did the picking It was oppressively hot, back breaking, finger stinging work, plucking the tufts of cotton off the plant and putting them into burlap sacks.We passed the occasional gas station and general store with Coca Cola in fading white script on peeling red paint We stopped at one of them It was the kind of place that looked like it might still have Coke in those little six and a half ounce green bottles, the kind my grandfather used to have at his one man Coca Cola bottling operation in Black River Falls, Wisconsin I checked No, even here it was cans and plastic bottles only Next to the cash register and the March of Dimes box was a giant plastic jar of hard boiled eggs in vinegar Beside that was another big jar with something vaguely pink floating in the brine Pickled pigs feet Id never tasted either Id stick to Diet Coke for now.As we got closer to Monroeville, NPR faded Now the choices were country music, conservative commentary, or fiery preaching on a couple of stations Around every other bend was a redbrick church or a tiny white one with a steeple stabbing blue sky and a cemetery out back Most of the churches were Baptist, but we also saw ones that were Methodist, First Assembly, and Pentecostal.In a clearing between a redbrick school and woods dripping in kudzu, we spotted a basketball court Young men playing Young women watching.Terrence slowed the car and looked at me.Yes, lets, I said.We pulled into the area of trampled grass where other cars were parked, our rental conspicuously shiny and new among the old wide bodied Chevrolets held together with spare parts and ingenuity People stared openly at Terrence and me as we walked to the sidelines Terrence carried a large camera around his neck He is fairly tall I stand fully five feet three and a half inches, with blue eyes, blond hair, and whats charitably called alabaster skin, a whiter shade of pale Mine was the only white face in the crowd.We explained why we were there We were just chatting, mostly This was our first chance to get acquainted with the area, see what people had to say about life in this part of the country Had they been assigned To Kill a Mockingbird in school A few had Most had not This also was the first of many times I was glad we had our bases covered between the two of us male and female, black and white Of course, once we opened our mouths and spoke, our accents lumped us together in one important way We were Yankees.As we spoke with the young men and women, the harshness of the sun gradually faded I glanced at my watch It was 6 35 P.M This was what photographers call the golden hour, the magical interlude when everything is bathed in a soft light and, in the words of the painter James Whistler, common things are touched with mystery and transfigured with beauty.Terrence crouched down to photograph a couple of the pickup ballplayers from that vantage point.A light rain began to fall In the muggy August air, it was gentle relief As it picked up, Terrence returned the lens cap to his camera I closed my notebook against the falling drops One of the young men waved at us Come back anytime.Terrence and I made our way back onto the two lane highway to Monroeville Wed have to find our way in the dark to the Best Western on the outskirts of town and then be up early to cram as many interviews as possible into our first day there.Nearing the city, the feeling of a place out of time ends abruptly Familiar chains pop up At the Best Western, our rooms had an uninspiring view of parking lot and fence Across a large field, the lights from Davids Catfish House glowed softly.For dinner, I fed quarters into the outdoor vending machines I retrieved peanut butter crackers from the well of the snack machine, and held a blessedly cold can of Diet Coke to my forehead I smelled an odor I could not place It wasnt coming from the big garbage can in the alcove it was carried on the faint breeze blowing over the field It smelled like paper mill with a sour finish, like boiling cabbage It was fertilizer, I later learned.This was a poor county in a poor state Where were the jobs now that the Vanity Fair plant had scaled way back The apparel manufacturer set up shop here in 1937, and it became the towns economic engine, propelling it out of the worst of the Depression There were a lot of jobs for men and, for the first time at these wages, women But most of the manufacturing work had gone elsewhere in recent years The money tourists spent on meals and motels didnt begin to make up for the jobs lost to cutbacks and closings Monroeville suffered an unemployment rate of 18 percent.Terrence rapped on my door Monroe County was dry, going back to Prohibition Conecuh County was not Terrence suggested we get libations back across the county line We had passed Lees Package Goods, no relation to the sisters, and doubled back to stop in The place was a cross between forlorn and forbidding It had peeling paint and bars on the windows Other than the WELCOME TO MONROE COUNTY sign and the store, there was nothing much around here except fields.The jangle of the bell on the door announced our arrival A heavyset young white woman behind the counter looked our way So did a middle aged Asian woman who appeared from a back room They didnt smile at us They just looked at us without expression Under harsh lights they sized up their customers We must not have looked like too much trouble.After we returned to the motel, we shared a quick drink in this dry county.Half a glass is good, thanks I wanted to go over my notes before tomorrow.Half a glass.Terrence poured my wine into a water glass from the bathroom counter, which faced out into this standard issue motel room.He offered a toast.To Monroeville.To Monroeville.We clinked glasses Not rotgut Not great.In my room, I pulled out my paperback copy of the novel and climbed under the covers I was tired from our trip, but before I made my acquaintance with Lees hometown, I wanted to get lost again in the rhythm of her language I wouldnt be able to go to sleep right away anyway.This edition, published by Warner Books, had a simple illustration on the cover the silhouette of a bird flying away from a tree In the knothole of the tree, someone had stashed a ball of yarn and a pocket watch.Just a few weeks earlier, it had been shiny and new, its spine unbroken, its 281 pages crisp and untouched Now pages were turned down at the corners Passages were highlighted in yellow and sentences underlined in black ink with scribbled notations in the margins.On page 5, I had underlined one of the novels most quoted passages.Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it In rainy weather the streets turn to red slop grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square Mens stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning Ladies bathed before noon, after their three oclock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.The grown Scout is looking back at the world of her childhood She is in no hurry to tell the story Right away, we hear her warmth, her wit, and a subtle wistful quality She invites us to the events that changed everything one summer when she was a young girl, events set in motion, her brother reckons, long before either of them was born.Horton Foote selected the passage to begin the film adaptation of the book He grew up in a small town in Texas, not Alabama, but he said Lee had captured a place that he knew intimately from his own childhood Lee called Footes film one of the best adaptations ever made Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for what he called the role of a lifetime Horton Foote also won an Oscar, for his screenplay Lee had not wanted to write the screenplay She trusted Foote As he put it, It was just like we were cousins I just felt I knew this town It could have been a replica of my own So began a decades long friendship, not only with Foote but with Peck, who met her father in Monroeville to prepare for his role.Robert Duvall made his debut as a young film actor playing the reclusive Boo Radley, seen only at the end of the film Elmer Bernsteins haunting score is recognizable from the first notes They evoke a childs simple tinkering on a piano As the title sequence begins, we see a young girls hands opening an old cigar box She sings to herself as she pokes around the box of treasures There are a few Buffalo nickels, a set of jacks, some marbles, a harmonica, a whistle, and a pocket watch Its a childhood of roaming free, of unbridled imaginations using those simple props to conjure up stories of high drama and death defying feats.When the film came out in 1962, Monroeville had a downtown movie theater A young Harper Lee, her dark hair cropped short, smiled broadly for a photo below the marquee advertising To Kill a Mockingbird Not long after, the theater burned It was not rebuilt.The next morning, I stepped out of my motel room and into the furnace of Monroeville in August The Best Western is on Highway 21, which becomes Alabama Avenue To reach the courthouse, according to the clerk at the motel, all we had to do was follow the road about five miles It ended right at the town square We passed an unremarkable stretch of auto parts places and assorted businesses Next we came upon the Monroe County Hospital, up a short, steep hill to our left, then a strip mall with a Winn Dixie supermarket, a Rite Aid, and a dollar store We passed Radleys Deli, a weathered gray building, named for Boo Radley We drove the generic stretch you find anyplace in AmericaMcDonalds, Burger King, KFCbefore we spotted the low slung Vanity Fair building Petes Texaco, a classic, cluttered old gas station, looked like it hadnt changed much over the decades On the corner where Alabama Avenue crosses Claiborne Street was Lee Motor Company, also no relation to the author I had read she didnt like the mural of a giant mockingbird painted on the side of the brick building Across the street, on another mural, Scout and Jem stand by the neighborhood tree The snug 1930s post office anchors the southeast side of the town square We parked in one of the diagonal parking spaces across the street, in front of the Old Courthouse Adjacent to it is what everyone calls the new courthouse It was built in 1963.Seen from the north, Lee wrote, the Maycomb County courthouse was early Victorian and looked all right From the other side, however, Greek revival columns clashed with a big nineteenth century clock tower housing a rusty unreliable instrument, a view indicating a people determined to preserve every physical scrap of the past Monroeville once had such an unreliable instrument, a problem addressed with a modern solution Now when the bell tolls the hours, it is a recording that rings out from the clock tower.We made our way up a short flight of steps and through the pair of tall, heavy doors that welcome Mockingbird tourists The courthouse is a magnet for people from around the country looking for a connection to the novel and the movie, those seeking a glimpse of the real world that inspired that fictional one A small gift shop sold To Kill a Mockingbird T shirts and key chains, and posters of the towns annual production of the play.Terrence and I ducked our heads into the large courtroom that served as the basis for the one in the movie It was large, with a curving balcony, painted white, along the second floor, and tall windows overlooking the square Terrence began taking pictures and I climbed slightly uneven wooden steps to the stuffy second floor.I heard Kathy McCoy, the director of the museum and its annual To Kill a Mockingbird production, before I saw her Behind a closed door, she was having a loud, animated phone conversation Her accent was Southern but not the same kind you heard around here She was from Kentucky.I wanted to know what McCoy could tell me about the community, the play she directed each year here at the courthouse, the Lees role around town, and who might remember the old Monroeville and be willing to speak with me I asked her about the tourism here, and what she could tell me about Harper Lee, knowing that tension has simmered for years between the Lee sisters and those looking to capitalize on the books fame.Harper Lee doesnt want us to commercialize the book, McCoy told me, but we feel what were doing is a service to the community and to the rest of the world She and her staff put together a guidebook titled Monroeville The Search for Harper Lees Maycomb and published a guide for tours of the town On the town square, fans of the novel can peer at the redbrick building where Lees father maintained his law office and where Harper Lee wrote part of the novel On Alabama Avenue, they can see the spot where Lees childhood home once stood, the spot that now is home to Mels Dairy Dream, a white shack with a walk up window for ordering ice cream cones and burgers Gone, too, is the home next door, where a young Truman Capote lived for a time with his aunts A plaque and a little bit of an old stone fence mark the spot.That day, several people from out of town were looking around the centerpiece of the courthouse, the wood floored courtroom, where a young Harper Lee had seen her attorney father in action, the one replicated in the movie Visitors sit in the colored balcony, just as Scout did during Tom Robinsons trial The bolder ones approach the judges bench and lift the gavel, letting it drop with an authoritative rap Simple props, such as a period calendar, hang on the wall to re create the Maycomb of the novel for playgoers.Once you step outside, though, finding the contours and flavor of the Monroeville of that era is harder Even when the book came out in 1960, Monroeville had changed drastically from its Depression era days The size of it, the look of it, the feel of it, all were dramatically different.When producer Alan Pakula and director Robert Mulligan set about bringing the novel to the movie screen, they considered filming on location in Monroeville But they decided against it It didnt look enough like the town of the 1930s they were trying to re create The town still had some of its charm, but it was too modern to stand in for 1930s Maycomb.Instead, they replicated the courtroom in which a young Nelle had watched her father argue cases, and went to work creating Maycomb on set in Hollywood For exterior shots, they incorporated some old California bungalows that could be made to look like homes in Nelles Maycomb.The films art director, Henry Bumstead, wrote producer Alan Pakula from Monroeville He abbreviated Monroeville as Mv and To Kill a Mockingbird as TM The letter is dated November 1961.Dear Alan,I arrived here in Mv this afternoon after a very interesting and beautiful drive from Montgomery During my drive, I was very much impressed by the lack of traffic, the beautiful countryside and the character of the Negro shacks that dot the terrain.Harper Lee was here to meet me and she is a most charming person She insisted I call her Nellefeel like Ive known her for years Little wonder she was able to write such a warm and successful novel.Mv is a beautiful little town of about 2,500 inhabitants Its small in size but large in Southern character Im so happy you made possible for me to research the area before designing TM.Most of the houses are of wood, one story and set up on brick piles Almost every house had a porch and a swing hanging from the porch rafters Believe me, its a much relaxed life than we live in Hollywood.I also visited the old courthouse square and the interior of the courtroom Nelle wrote about I cant tell you how thrilled I am by the architecture and the little touches which will add to our sets Old pot bellied stoves still heat the courtroom Beside each one stands a tub filled with coal Nelle says we should have a block of ice on the exterior of the courthouse steps when we shoot this sequence It seems that people chip off a piece of ice to take into the courthouse with them to munch on to try to keep cool It reminded me of my youth, when I used to follow the ice wagon to get the ice chips Nelle is really amused at my picture taking and also my taking measurements so that I can duplicate the things I see She said she didnt know we worked so hard This morning she greeted me with I lost five pounds yesterday following you around taking pictures of doorknobs, houses, wagons, collards, etccan we take time for lunch today Nelle says the exterior of Mrs DuBoses house should have paint that is peeling Also the interior should have dark woodwork, Victorian furniture and be grim Her house would be wired for electricity, but she would still be using oil lampsto save money, so Nelle says Boo Radleys should look like it had never been paintedalmost haunted.Warmest regards,Henry BumsteadWhen readers of To Kill a Mockingbird first come to Monroeville, they want it to be just like the town they know from the novel and the movie They want to see the place where the characters they loveScout and Atticus, Jem and Dill and Boolive and play, work and dream.People moved slowly then They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything A day was twenty four hours long but seemed longer There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.So visitors in search of Maycomb just assume theyre not looking hard enough or in the right places Maycomb must be here somewhere It must exist.The form of a town changes, alas, quickly than the human heart, Charles Baudelaire once wrote Monroeville, like any town, has been altered in manifold and important ways since the 1930s Those who love the novel, however, havent budged Their expectations are steadfast Two decades ago, McCoy told me, Monroe County drew about two thousand visitors a year Now the annual tally was closer to twenty thousand and climbing, and a good four fifths of those folks say that the novel is what brought them.The museums annual spring production of the play To Kill a Mockingbird draws visitors to a stage only Monroeville can offer The first act unfolds on the lawn of the Old Courthouse Museum, where the breeze carries the scent of pink azaleas and mockingbirds sometimes alight on tree branches The second act, the infamous trial, takes place inside, in the old fashioned courtroom familiar to anyone who has watched the movie Every year, the performances sell out.McCoy directed me to walk out the door of the Old Courthouse and across a bit of lawn to the new one to interview Otha Lee Biggs, the county probate judge Biggs was a powerful figure here who was involved with the annual play and Mockingbird matters generally.Judge Biggs operated out of an office piled to the rafters with books and papers He was an older, dark haired man and he played his part with a certain theatricality His official duties had to do with running the county His unofficial duties included gleaning information from journalists who thought they were the ones interviewing him We spoke very generally about the town, the book, and the Lees, whom he had known for a long time.I would come to learn that Biggs was one of the ways the Lees often knew who was in town and why It was an early warning detection system When they especially wanted to avoid someone likely to come knocking on their door, they occasionally would hit the road for their sister Louises home in Eufaula or, closer to home, a motel over in Evergreen, the neighboring Conecuh County seat.My next visit, per McCoys directions, would be to Charlie McCorvey, an educator and county commissioner who played the role of Tom Robinson every spring At Monroeville Middle School, McCorvey greeted me warmly and asked who I had been to see so far McCorvey was a large man with silver rimmed glasses Once a year, to play Tom Robinson, he would trade his button down shirt and tie for worn overalls.Local people constitute the cast every year lawyers and doctors, preachers and plumbers, businessmen and shop owners And educators In one particularly difficult scene, Bob Ewell berates Tom Robinson, spitting out the n word in his stream of racist vitriol Hard to be the white actor saying it Hard to be the black actor hearing it Occasionally, African American friends would ask McCorvey if it made sense to depict the humiliation and violent end that his character suffered But McCorveys instincts as an educator told him this was another form of teaching Some of these kids think the days of segregation and yessuh, nossuh are ancient history but they are not This makes it real to them.Kathy McCoy also suggested I speak with a retired businessman named A B Blass He went to school with Nelle, caddied for her father at the local golf course built by Vanity Fair, and now often spoke to the reporters who cycled through town.In his living room, Blass told me of the time in the early 1960s when A C Lee put a reassuring hand on Blasss shoulder and said simply, You did right, son Blass had stood up, in his way, to the Ku Klux Klan, which was threatening violence against band members the first year the parade was to be integrated Blass canceled the parade rather than put the marching bands in harms way or allow the tradition of the segregated parade to continue.Blass had recounted a collection of Lee stories many times to many journalists, until they were stones rubbed smooth by time and the telling His voice was almost hypnotic, low and slow I had the sense from Kathy McCoy that the Lee sisters did not appreciate what A B Blass had to share about their family, though McCoy didnt explain exactly what their objections were.As he spoke, I gathered that the reason might be that he described Nelles mother as an emotionally disturbed woman.She was touched, Blass said I remember as a little boy walking to school, Id see her there on their front porch, talking to herself Id walk back the same way after school and shed still be there sometimes, just talking to herself like that.Id learn later that the Lees took issue with this characterization, to say the least Id hear how they remembered Frances Lee as a gentle soul, a woman who played the piano and sang, loved crossword puzzles, and enthusiastically traded books back and forth with Truman Capotes mother when she lived next door Frances Lee did suffer a nervous breakdown at one point, after a harrowing experience, one the Lees had not discussed publicly Her second child, Louise, cried in distress around the clock for months and couldnt properly digest anything her desperate parents gave her The baby recovered when a pediatrician found a special formula she could digest As I came to know the Lees, the way their mother was depicted over the years was high on the list of things they wanted to set straight.Nelle, according to Blass, was a scrappy girl unafraid to cuss and use her fists, every bit as feisty as the fictional Scout Finch Blass remembered A C Lee as a quiet man with an even temperament His sense of propriety and civility was steadfast Even when the heat and humidity bore down, Mr Lee wore his business suit on the golf course Blass thought it was a shame Nelle Harper no longer socialized with some of the people she had grown up with, himself among them He suspected she didnt appreciate his willingness to talk to the press about the Lee family He was correct, I learned later.I had most of what I needed for my newspaper story after a few days, within the constraints of the Lees and their close friends not granting interviews Terrence and I would head home soon But first, I had to at least request an interview with Harper Lee or her sister Alice in person If anyone answered the door, I would be polite, and then I would be gone.Terrence drove our rental car to the older neighborhood of redbrick houses across from the big, rambling junior high that used to be the high school Harper Lee studied there when it was newly built.Alice Lees home wasnt listed in the local phone book A researcher in the Tribunes reference roomthe morgue, to old timerseasily pulled the number from online records One thing I hadnt found in my file full of articles and background materials was a photo of the Lee home In one of the most frequently reproduced photos of Lee as a young woman, she is in a rocking chair next to her father The photos accompanied a 1961 Life magazine feature about Lee at home The interior of the white screened porch, on the side of the house, is visible but you cant tell what the house looks like from the street According to the articles I read, even the location of the house was kept secret, at least by some of the residents who declined to disclose its whereabouts to various tourists and journalists.I felt uneasy about knocking on their door But I needed to be able to tell my editors I at least tried.Chapter TwoTerrence didnt pull into the Lees driveway He idled the car along their quiet street.Well, I told him, Ill probably be right back.It was early evening, and still light out The air was warm and still We knew Alice Lee probably would be home after her day at the law office I walked up a few wooden steps and knocked on a white wooden door Its old brass knocker had Alice F Lee engraved in feminine script I took a step back Nothing.I pressed the doorbell, stepped back again, and waited Nothing All right then At least I tried Id wait another minute, then join Terrence in the air conditioned car and call it a day.Just before I turned around to go back to the car, a tiny woman using a walker came to the door She had large glasses and wore a tailored light blue skirt and matching suit jacket Her gray hair, parted on the side, was clipped neatly in place with a single bobby pin I introduced myself She leaned in to hear better I raised my voice and repeated who I was and why I was there.Yes, Miss Mills I received the materials you sent And the letter Her voice was a raspy croak She had read what I sent about Chicagos library system picking To Kill a Mockingbird for One Book, One Chicago From her sources, she knew I had been making the rounds I had read about Alice Lee, Harper Lees much older sister She was eighty nine years old and still a practicing attorney From the clips Id seen, I knew she often ran interference for her sister, politely but firmly declining interviews I was surprised when she invited me in.Across the threshold, a musty smell greeted me A large oak bookcase, shoulder high and to my right, dominated the small entryway Just beyond a short hallway was a small telephone nook A little white chair was pulled up to a waist high ledge with the telephone.Please come in, she said.I followed Alice Lee into the living room Books were everywhere They filled one bookshelf after another, stood in piles by her reading chair, and were stacked on the coffee table and most available surfaces, for that matter. Washington Post There are many reasons to be grateful for The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Millss wonderful memoir of Harper Lee and her sister.Sympathetic and respectful it may be, but The Mockingbird Next Door is no sycophantic puff piece It is a zesty account of two women living on their own terms yet always guided by the strong moral compass instilled in them by their father It is also an atmospheric tale of changing small town America of an unlikely, intergenerational friendship between the young author and her elderly subjects of journalistic integrity and of grace and fortitude Mills doesnt avoid prickly issues, but she approaches them obliquely and accepts partial answers Despite her enervating illness, Millss writing is energetic The Mockingbird Next Door is warm yet wistful, a lament for the books Harper Lee never wrote It ends on an elegiac note, since by the time Mills was able to complete it, the Lees were fading fast, in separate assisted living facilities The world she depicts is sadly gone, butlucky for usshe caught it just in time USA Today A lot of people have a lot of ideas about what it means to be American, but heres one To Kill a Mockingbird .That fact alone makes The Mockingbird Next Door, a memoir by Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills about her friendship with the books author, Harper Lee, a valuable artifact Its also a thoughtful, sweet tempered, witty piece of work The Mockingbird Next Door offers a winning, nuanced portrait Indeed, given Lees deep privacy and advanced age, it seems unlikely well ever have a better record of a remarkable American life. People Marja Mills has written an intimate, moving book about a rare talent.NPR Fresh Air, Maureen Corrigan Charming The Mockingbird Next Door offers a rich sense of the daily texture of the Lee sisters lives The world that Mills was invited into over a decade ago has disappeared both Alice now 102 and Harper Lee now 88 are in nursing homes, memories faded Fortunately, in Mills, the sisters found a genteel family chronicler knocking at their door at the eleventh hour. O, The Oprah Magazine Mills has done what no writer before her could She got Harper Lee to open up about her life, her work, and why she never wrote another book Boston Globe A rare, surprising, and respectful look at the Lees and their milieu New York Post Its a testament to one time Chicago Tribune reporter Mills skilland being in the right place at the right timethat she befriended Lee and her lawyer sister, Alice, in the authors hometown of Monroeville, Ala., and was chosen to set the record straight on Lee A wonderful, insightful and long overdue tale about the author of one of the greatest American novels Vanity Fair Hot Type The Mockingbird Sings More important than these answers, however, is the voice of Lee herselfand her message, which we still need to hear Huffington PostIm grateful for the time Marja Mills spent with both Lee sisters and their perceptive hometown friends a gentle and evocative portrait of Monroeville today Ms Mills brief, charming memoir offers a rare picture of the reclusive author in her later years, a valuable addition to Harper Lee lore Elle In telling their story in The Mockingbird Next Door, Mills writes with the amazement of one who feels kissed by fate We in turn are blessed with an intimate portrait of Lee.Shelf Awareness The development of trust and friendship between Mills and the Lee sisters took time, but even in those first minutes, the relationship was nearly unprecedented Told charmingly in the Lees southern drawl and with the affection and closeness that the story reveals, The Mockingbird Next Door is quietly admiring and satisfyingly intimate, and will captivate not only fans of Lees great American novel, but fans of real people living modest lives in small town Alabama, or anywhere. Southern Living Reading The Mockingbird Next Door is like opening a window into Harper Lees private world As the window closes on the last page, were left with nostalgia for one of literatures greatest talents and the feeling we had the very first time we read her remarkable novel.OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network Another real discovery This intrepid journalist learned about the stories behind To Kill a Mockingbird and Harper Lee than anyone before, after or since. Good Housekeeping This glimpse of a rare bird is delightful. BookPage A winning and affectionate account. The Mockingbird Next Door offers a tender look at one of our most beloved and enigmatic writers, as well as the town that inspired her.Flavorwire Marja Mills engrossing first bookis an extraordinary account of roughly a decade in the day to day life of the reclusive writer behind one of Americas seminal texts To Kill a Mockingbird.The result is a gentle read, best enjoyed over a mint julep, say, or some sort of sipping drink, that sheds some necessary light on a persistent literary mystery.This one of a kind work may stand as the closest thing to an autobiography that were getting Garden and Gun Mills is a skilled writer and storyteller The Mockingbird Next Door has a near perfect combination of story and fact.Books U nlike the masses that went before her, Mills pulls off a journalistic coup by getting first Lees sister Alice to open doors for her and then Lee herself Mills has enjoyed unprecedented access to Lee, and we should be grateful for the tidbits she throws our way Houston Chronicle For To Kill a Mockingbirdfans it s a must read Book Reporter Mills s book is remarkable LibraryReads, Top 10 of July 2014A warm and engaging telling of the life story of Harper Lee Like no other biography, this book offers insights directly from Lees point of view as shared with the journalist she and her sister embraced in friendship late in their lives.Informative and delightful Booklist starred As she portrays the exceptional Lee women and their modest, slow paced world with awed precision, Mills creates a uniquely intimate, ruminative, and gently illuminating biographical memoir Publishers Weekly boxed review A must read for fansthoughtful, witty, and rich in feeling Kirkus Reviews In her first book, a journalist offers a gentle, loving portrait of a reclusive writer Mills portrays Nelle as a grown up Scout, the feisty and defiant heroine of Mockingbird A charming portrait of a small Southern town and its most famous resident.David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Barack Obamaand First in His ClassThe Mockingbird Next Doorisquirky, honest, unpretentious, delightful, insightful, and moves at its own sweet pace.It is wholly unlike anything Ive ever read, a reflection of both the author and her sympathetic subject We should all be glad that Marja Mills went down to that Best Western in Monroeville in search of Harper Lee.Elizabeth Berg, New York Timesbestselling author of Open HouseYou might come to The Mockingbird Next Door to find out why Harper Lee never wrote another novel But youll stay with it for its lush evocation of the South, and for the insight into what made this reclusive author the person she became In these pages, youll see the book crowded house where Harper Lee lives with her sister, Alice Youll go along on outings, sit in living rooms and at restaurant tables with the Lees, read faxes they and the author send back and forth, and appreciate the small and not so small revelations they offer life when they were growing up with their father, who was the model for Atticus Finch how reading sustains a person for a lifetime, how deeply embedded values dont change just because the times do, why its a good idea to regularly count the ducks you feed I suppose we all thrill to the notion of learning personal things about a deeply private but world famous person What we dont necessarily expect to see is how gently, respectfully and, above all, naturally it can be done While I appreciated getting to see and hear the real Harper Lee, I enjoyed as well the chance to meet Marja Mills, the woman who did what no one before her had because of her guileless trustworthiness, kindness, and care.Andrew Carroll, New York Timesbestselling author of War LettersIn The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Mills offers readers a rare gift, the opportunity to know an American icon We all know that Harper Lee made a singular impact on American culture and letters with her classic To Kill a Mockingbird But, we have never had the opportunity to know the great lady herself Im so glad that she and her sister Alice Lee decided to open up their world to Mills I promise that the real Harper Lee is than worth the wait, and Alice Lee emerges as a fascinating character in her own right Mills was lucky enough to be invited into the lives of the Lee sisters, and its a treat for all of us to join her there. Mockingbird The work of Mockingbird is made possible by the gifts private donors and churches Our fundraising burden for roughly ,, with virtually no overhead, your translate directly into mission ministry Mockingbird Bridal Dallas TX, Gowns Bridesmaids Best selection Gowns, Dresses, Wedding Formal Dress, Evening Dress Texas, Bridal, Store, Shop SparkNotes To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about child view race justice in Depression era South book sells one million copies per year, Scout remains most beloved characters American fiction Explore character analysis Scout, plot summary, important quotes To Wikipedia published It was immediately successful, Prize, has become classic modern literatureThe are loosely based on observations her family, neighbors an event that occurred near hometown Monroeville, Alabama, , when she years old Quotes, Atticus Finch, Jem Quotes Miss Maudie From which been quoted very frequently since its publication unforgettable childhood sleepy Southern town crisis conscience rocked it, A became both instant bestseller critical success it first went to win later Academy Award film, also IMDb lawyer South, defends black man against undeserved rape charge, his children prejudice Hill Cottage Life our little cottage Good morning so cold here this I had run errand yesterday noticed last time car before leaving trip, C Harper Nelle April February novelist widely known Mockingbird, Immediately won literatureThough only single book, awarded Presidential Medal Freedom contribution literature Lawyers Distinction Scam Cease Desist Threat Back October received another Demand from Jesse Brodsky at Lawyer denies cooperated new biography Jul biography Author released letter denying biography, Next Door Goodreads Important Quotations Maycomb town, but tired knew In rainy weather streets turned red slop omehow hotter then bony mules hitched Hoover carts flicked flies sweltering shade live oaks square Lifting best ever investigative history what really going behind scenes world over links reliable sources back upMarja Mills Marja Mills former reporter feature writer Chicago Tribune, where member staff series O Hare Airport entitled Gateway Gridlock addresses controversy literary poses portrait during Door, gives reader glimpse personal life About should memoir have war words broke out week following featuring author So ethics telling someone else story, asks Aida Door born raised Madison, Wisconsin Kirkus Reviews Simple questions can change course life, says Mills, Tribune journalist winner Her editor once asked her, Do you want take trip She said yes, without knowing assignment might be Executive Assistant Interceramic LinkedIn View profile LinkedIn, largest professional community job listed their See complete LinkedIn discover The Washington Post lived next door now worried objects Lee, shown wrote July Rest assured, as long am alive any purporting my cooperation falsehood Rob Carr AP Interview Of spent than year living reclusive sister documents Author QA Clarion Ledger Born reared Wisconsin, graduate Georgetown University School Foreign Service interest other cultures led studies Paraguay, Spain Sweden dispatch dispatch With will tell everything wanted know Negative reviewers Goodreads often urged give thought writers books These hearts souls hopes dreams records found Whitepages phone numbers, addresses, public records, background check reports arrest Whitepages people search trusted directory Decline Entertainment News This piece originally ran We rerunning news death For population shrinking, summer momentous WPWMAX Female Bodybuilding Fitness Fitness Yes we re having short surprise video special offer Last same didn t announce via email Agap Giving Staff Agap relies financial support individuals, groups You member, team or project, recent appeal, simply allow gift used needed Results Welcome Veterans Fencing European Team Championships Held Alkmaar, Netherlands May Rules 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