For those of you who adore To Kill a Mockingbird, have you read Charles Shields’s biography of Harper Lee? You should. You really, really should. It’s called Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. Reading this biography pulls the audience away from TKAM to focus on its author, yet at the same time, we can never truly separate the book from her either. So much of it interweaves with her life and events. Shields did not receive permission from the intensely private Nelle Harper Lee or her family to write the book; however, he writes with loving admiration of her. He delves deep into the life of this unassuming Southern woman, painfully shy and protective of her writing.
The author provides a detailed look at those who surrounded Lee during the time of her writing Mockingbird – a loving couple who donated money for her to write full time, a patient and wonderful editor who helped weave her disjointed stories into a novel, and an agent, Maurice Crane, who fiercely protected this new author (his wife doing the same when selling the book for the movie rights). Lee had a trusted group of friends who sheltered her and helped her shape To Kill a Mockingbird into greatness.
I found much of the book fascinating, particularly the section about famous author Truman Capote, Lee’s childhood friend and the model for Dill in TKAM. Capote, an eccentric genius (or selfish, narcissistic betrayer – depending on how you spin it) for better or worse was one of Harper Lee’s dearest friends. Just after Lee finished To Kill a Mockingbird but before its explosive success, Capote asked her to join him on a trip to Garden City, Kansas, to research the unexplained murders of an entire family in their own home – this eventually became Capote’s most famous work, In Cold Blood.
The novel addresses all of the questions you might have, namely, why just one book.