Harper Lee’s personal side is the subject of a new book on the author of “Mockingbird”

Homewood, Ala. To the world, Harper Lee was a reclusive, privacy-obsessed person who spent most of her life avoiding public view despite writing one of the all-time bestsellers, To Kill a Mockingbird. For Wayne Flint, the Alabama-born author was his friend Neil.

Flint, an old Southern historian who became close friends with Neil Harper Lee late in her life, wrote his second book on the author, Afternoons with Harper Lee, released Thursday with Flint signing copies at a bookstore on the outskirts of Birmingham.

Based on Flynt’s notes from dozens of visits with Lee more than a decade ago before her death in 2016, the book is like sitting on the balcony listening to tales of Lee’s childhood and family in rural Alabama, her last life in New York and everything in between. That includes the time when his grandfather who fought for the Confederacy survived the Battle of Gettysburg despite the heavy losses of his unit in Alabama, according to Flint.

“I said to her, ‘You know, half of 15 Alabama’s were either killed or wounded or captured, and ran away? Is this just luck or God’s measure? What in the world is this?'” Flint said in an interview with The Associated Press.

This cover photo from NewSouth Books shows

This cover photo released by NewSouth Books features “An Afternoon with Harper Lee” by Wayne Flint.

She said: No, this is not God’s care. He can run fast.”

Flint said the public perception of Lee as a hermit is wrong. No, she did not give media interviews and enthusiastically guarded her privacy, but she was also warm and gentle with friends including the former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, Flint said. He said Lee was “very religious” in a way that not many people act.

“It’s an attempt to tell the story of the authentic woman, not the marble lady,” said Flint.

The book is also a tribute to Flint’s late wife Dartie, who died in 2020. Flint, who suffered a stroke in 2007, said it seemed to match the physical suffering of Dartie Flint, who had Parkinson’s disease.

“I think she bore me,” he said, “because she loved my house.”

Born in 1926 when the South was still segregated by law, Lee was raised in Monroeville, South Alabama, the daughter of a lawyer who worked as a model for attorney Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, a story of race, injustice and law during the Jim Crow era. The city itself became Maycomb, the place of the book.

Flint said Lee’s well-known desire for privacy may have stemmed in part from her preference for soccer, softball, golf and books over social affairs in small towns or college student societies, from her feeling that she was different from others who had grown up around her in the South.

“I think she occupied a world where she felt like she was not like other girls,” he said.

Childhood friend of fellow author Truman Capote, she was rarely heard in public after her partially autobiography “Mockingbird” won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was made into a successful film. She mostly lived in an apartment in Manhattan, where it was easier to integrate than to go home, until a stroke partially paralyzed her.

Flint and his late wife knew two Lee sisters, and became close to the author after she returned to Alabama for good after a stroke. They visited her at a rehabilitation center in Birmingham and then at an assisted living home in Monroeville, where she had spent years before her death. Lee passed away just months after the release of her novel “Go Set a Watchman,” which was actually an early version of “Mockingbird.”

The book does not touch on the most intimate aspects of Lee’s life; Flynt said they simply did not discuss such things. But she recounts her worsening isolation of deafness and blindness towards the end of her life. Her love for gambling. the fuss about the “guardian”; and her authorship of an unpublished manuscript about a strange murder case in central Alabama.

Flint said Lee was steeped in literature and religion. He said she preferred the King James Version of the Bible to others because of its lyrical language, and among her favorite authors were Jane Austen and CS Lewis.

“When she died, on her ottoman in her two small rooms, was the complete anthology of all C.S. Lewis’ books. He must have weighed 50 pounds.”

“Afternoons With Harper Lee” is a follow-up to Flynt’s Mockingbird: My Friendship with Harper Lee. While the first book was based on the letters between the two, the new book is more meandering and speaking than the first in the Southern storytelling tradition.

“Letters are lifeless compared to the stories,” he said.

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