Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron—the history of literature is full of writers who were each other’s companions, critics, and close friends.
At first glance, Harper Lee’s friendship with Truman Capote looks unlikely. Lee shied away from publicity while Capote courted it. Lee sought out a quiet life with her sister at home in Alabama, while Capote lived a hard partying, jet-setting existence among celebrities. Capote wrote prolifically, publishing novels, short stories, magazines articles and TV scrips. Lee published one novel in 1960, the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird, and is set to release her second, Go Set a Watchman, on July 14.
Yet these opposites were childhood companions whose bond helped them become two of the most revered American writers of all time. Here are fourteen facts you might not know about their unusual friendship.
1. Lee and Capote were next-door neighbors in Monroeville, Alabama. They met when they were five years old.
2. Capote was small and dressed differently than his peers at school, while Lee was a tomboy. Throughout their early childhoods, Lee protected Capote from bullies.
3. Lee and Capote both had strained relationships with their mothers as children. Lee’s mother suffered from psychological problems and severe mood swings. Capote’s mother didn’t want him, often locking him alone in hotel rooms. She left him in Monroeville in the care of her cousins while she pursued a carefree life in New York City.
4. Lee and Capote both loved to read, and to be read aloud to. Their favorite books included the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Rover Boys series, by Edward Stratemeyer, and adventure books by Seckatary Hawkins.
5. When Lee and Capote were still in elementary school, Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman Lee, gave them a typewriter. The two of them took turns dictating stories and typing them up.
6. In the mid-1930s, Capote’s mother moved him to New York City permanently. After that, Capote and Lee saw each other in the summers, when Capote returned to Monroeville.
7. In December of 1959, while waiting for the publication of her first novel, Lee accompanied Capote to Holcomb, Kansas by train. She was there as Capote’s “assistant researchist,” helping him look the murders Capote captured in his masterpiece, In Cold Blood.
8. In 1964, while Capote was still writing In Cold Blood, he needed to stay in the good graces of the people involved in the case. Whenever they visited New York, he would ask Lee to help him entertain them. Together, Lee and Capote would take them to Broadway musicals or to fancy dinners.
9. In 1965, Lee edited Capote’s final draft for In Cold Blood. She had burned her hand badly several months earlier and had trouble writing, but nonetheless she made abbreviated comments as she reviewed Capote’s draft.
10. When In Cold Blood was published, Capote didn’t give Lee any credit. He merely dedicated the book to her and to his longtime partner, Jack Dunphy. Lee was hurt by this slight, given the time, effort, and work she put into the book.
11. Despite Capote’s failure to acknowledge Lee’s contribution to his book, Lee and Capote went on a nostalgic road trip together through south Alabama two years later.
12. In 1960, before To Kill a Mockingbird was released, Capote proudly told his friends that Lee’s book was coming out and that she had written him into it as the character Dill.
13. In 1964, in one of the last interviews that Lee gave, she was asked to name the writers she most admired. She said that there was likely no better writer in the country than Truman Capote.
14. In 1976, Capote brought Lee along for moral support to an interview with People magazine. Lee had, by then, become increasingly reluctant to appear publicly, but did so to support her friend.