Harper Lee might have published one of the most-read American novels of all time with To Kill a Mocking Bird, but that hasn’t kept her from shrouding herself in a reclusive anti-public image that leaves much to the imagination about the woman behind the book.
Naturally, that hasn’t prevented journalists from trying to score an interview with Harper to learn more about her. Lee fended off thousands of such requests during the height of her fame, and it appears her curt responses to those solicitations hasn’t changed much.
Conner Sheets, a reporter for AL.com, attempted to contact Harper as speculation began to swirl about a possible To Kill a Mockingbird sequel. As written in his column, Conner was constantly rebuffed in his quest to have a word with Lee from the author’s lawyers, publisher, and staff at the Monroeville, Alabama, nursing home where Harper lives.
“I hoped she would confirm that [Lee] is in fact lucid and fully in control of the destiny of… the ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ corollary that her representatives claimed to have recently unearthed. I hoped she would help clear up all the questions the world has been waiting to have answered about the circumstances of the book’s planned release.”
After months of desperately seeking Harper, Sheets finally tried his final resort: mailing a handwritten letter to Lee with the hope that he would be able to explain his motivation to speak with her. In the letter, he mentioned that some locals who knew Harper were concerned about the decision to unearth another book after such a long silence, and whether or not Lee had full control of the situation.
“I am writing you today because I spoke with a number of people yesterday in Monroeville who have known you to various degrees over the years, and most of them are concerned about you and what is happening with ‘Go Set a Watchman’ and your legacy. Janet Sawyer, owner of the Courthouse Café is worried that you are being manipulated into publishing the book against your long-held wishes. Some other folks worry that you are not mentally sound enough to make decisions about your career. Many worry that maybe you are being exploited.”
As Sheets mentioned in his article, Harper was notorious for rejecting requests for interviews. The New York Times reported that her typical response was “not just no, but hell no.” Still, Conner hoped that he might just be able to crack Lee open and get the real story of To Kill a Mockingbird’s 50-year-belated sequel. Weeks later, he got a response.
“On Wednesday, I received an envelope without a return address, made out to ‘Conner Sheets.’ I opened it without fanfare, only to find my letter, wrinkled and refolded, with four words and one punctuation mark scrawled in cursive Sharpie at the bottom: ‘Go Away! Harper Lee.'”
Harper Lee’s sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchmen, is set to be released July 14.
[Image via Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images]