Up Close: Harper Lee
My father even advised me to attend the University of Alabama, Harper Lee’s alma mater, in order to join the women’s golf team since I played on the boys’ team in high school. But I loved books and wanted to be an exchange student in England, so I didn’t play golf in college. Though I did study in England for a year at Manchester University.
On one of my research trips to Alabama, I took my nine-year-old daughter, Norah, and we arrived in Monroeville on an early Sunday evening in February. The old clock tower struck five on the town square while she raced around gathering the tops of pink, red, and white camellias that had fallen on the grass. With her arms full of flowers, she stopped and said, “This place is beautiful but it’s lonesome and sad too."
Harper Lee wrote these words in To Kill a Mockingbird: “Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what." The more I began to work on her biography, the more those words began to haunt me. I realized I might very well be licked with my subject not willing to talk and so little published about her except for one unauthorized biography. So to find real courage to write this book, I knew I needed to go to Alabama to the heart of Harper Lee country. I wanted not just an understanding of the author but of her home and the people who knew her. It was the only way I knew how to write the story.