Harper Lee in Her Own Words
Harper Lee was fiercely private, but she did offer a few glimpses of her life through letters and rare newspaper interviews.
- •On the reaction of her agent to the final draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird”:“I was plain afraid for you to read it and go through the bitter disappointment of two years’ wasted effort a’borning a writer…. So today I shed tears, happy tears, tears of relief and gratitude as I read your long letter."
- •On her pen name:“I’ve signed myself ‘Harper Lee’ simply because the spelling of my first name is peculiar, and most people call it ‘Nellie’ when they read it (on checks + job applications)— something I can’t abide. I lopped it off just to avoid confusion. Also, if I ever do amount to anything as a writer I’d prefer to hide behind ‘Harper Lee’ as a sort of writing name and continue to be Maurice’s own biting, scratching + kicking Nelle."
- •On her research for Capote’s “In Cold Blood”:“Truman thinks I’m writing notes like mad – well, I am! This is the kind of paper we scribble on during the day when we’re interviewin’… I’ve fallen extravagantly in love with the KBI man in charge of the case, but alas, guess what he’s got? An awfully nice wife and two nice kids – but he’s so handsome there’s no harm in looking, is there? Truman says my reportorial talent deserts me every time we interview Mr. Dewey – that all I do’s stare + can’t remember a word he says. He is gorgeous."
- •On her (ultimately unsuccessful) struggle to write another novel after the smash success of “To Kill a Mockingbird”:“You don’t write in competition with anyone. You only have to satisfy yourself… I stay in a state of apprehension. An author always worries about her work."
- •On writing and revising:“I am more of a re-writer than a writer. I write at least three drafts. I’ve been writing since I was a kid of seven. But I have systematically thrown away most of what I’ve written. It was a form of self-training.”
- •On her writing hideout:“Writing is the loneliest work there is… I have a place where I don’t know anybody and nobody knows me. I’m not going to tell, because then somebody would know.”