Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nelle Harper Lee left Monroeville for college, then law school in her father’s footsteps, though she stopped just shy of completing her degree. Instead she went to New York, where she worked as an airline reservations clerk and assisted her childhood friend, Truman Capote, in researching the book he took full credit for, In Cold Blood, also a classic, about two murderers in Kansas. Catherine Keener plays her in the 2005 film Capote (photo above), and looks very much like Lee’s 1960s photos.

She began writing in earnest in the mid 50s, returning frequently to Alabama to nurse her ailing father. One Christmas in Manhattan, a songwriter friend and his wife gave her a unique gift—a year’s income, to support her writing. (The songwriter was Michael Brown, who made his reputation and probably his fortune producing industrial musicals for clients like DuPont and Woolworth.) She used it to write the first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird.

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