Harper Lee caught the beauty of America with To Kill a Mockingbird, but has remained something of a mystery ever since. Charles J. Shields's portrait of her, Mockingbird, shows us a quietly reclusive, down-to-earth woman with an enormous gift and documents her struggle to live with that gift for the rest of her life. Shields evocation of both the woman and her beautiful, sleepy, and smoldering South are pitch perfect.” Anne River Siddons, author of Sweetwater Creek and other books
“Harper Lee's intense personal privacy sets daunting limitations for a biographer, but Charles Shields has ingeniously recovered the feel of her childhood world of Monroeville, Alabama, and the small-town Southern customs and vivid personalities that shaped her prickly independence. Detailed memories of Lee's classmates and friends are interwoven with dramatic recreations of key events and stories of her friendships and literary collaborations, all fleshing out the general narrative of her development as a novelist. Close attention to her friendship with Truman Capote and the conditions of the writing and then the filming of To Kill a Mockingbird offer special fascination.” Louise Westling, Professor of English, University of Oregon, author of Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens: The Fiction of Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O'Connor
“If there is a great American novel, certainly To Kill a Mockingbird is it. But, for all of us who love it, its author has always been an enigma. Did Harper Lee really write this classic? And if she did, why didn't she ever write another book? And who is Harper Lee, anyway? Finally, a writer has done the necessary research to reveal the surprising answers. To every To Kill a Mockingbird reader, I send this message: The story isn't over. There's so much more to come, and you'll find it all in Charles Shields' delightful and insightful Mockingbird.” Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys
Harper Lee's ambitions were always both local and lofty: "All I want to be is the Jane Austen of South Alabama." Her 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, augured well for a brilliant career, but this Pulitzer Prize-winning author has never followed up her first success. Charles Shields' tantalizing biography draws on interviews with 600 of Lee's acquaintances but was compiled without cooperation from its subject; the semi-reclusive Lee stopped granting interviews in the mid-'60s. Mockingbird offers telling details about the writing of Lee's masterpiece and her assistance to Truman Capote when he was researching In Cold Blood. It's the first full-length biography of a beloved, enigmatic author.
Few novels are as beloved and acclaimed as To Kill a Mockingbird and even fewer authors have shunned the spotlight as successfully as its author. Although journalist Shields interviewed 600 of Harper Lee's acquaintances and researched the papers of her childhood friend Truman Capote, he is no match for the elusive Lee, who stopped granting interviews in 1965 and wouldn't talk to him. Much of this first full-length biography of Lee is filled with inconsequential anecdotes focusing on the people around her, while the subject remains stubbornly out of focus. Shields enlivens Lee's childhood by pointing out people who were later fictionalized in her novel. The book percolates during her banner year of 1960, when she won the Pulitzer Prize and helped Capote research In Cold Blood. Capote's papers yield some of Lee's fascinating first-person insights on the emotionally troubled Clutter family that were tempered in his book. Shields believes Lee abandoned her second novel when her agents and her editor-her surrogate family in publishing-died or left the business, leaving her with no support system. There's a tantalizing anecdote about a true-crime project Lee was researching in the mid-'80s that faded away. Sputtering to a close, the final chapter covers the last 35 years in 24 pages. It's also baffling that this affectionate biography ends with three paragraphs devoted to someone slamming her classic work. (June 6) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
With all of the newly revived interest in Harper Lee that the movie Capote has generated, this first ever study of her life should, in turn, spark a bit of a buzz among scholars and the general public. Shields, a journalist and author of nonfiction books for young adults, manages to portray effectively the author of To Kill a Mockingbird without receiving any help from Lee herself. Instead, he has interviewed her friends, colleagues, and school acquaintances and visited many special manuscript collections at universities and archives. What emerges is a well-written profile of a Southern writer who was a rebel in her small Alabama town as she was growing up and attending college. Lee discovered that she wanted to be a writer rather than a lawyer (as her father, an attorney himself, desired). Her only novel drew upon her experiences and her Southern milieu, but its huge success and influence made it difficult for her to write a second book. She became, if not a recluse, then certainly a person who valued privacy over fame and public attention. The best chapter details how Lee and her childhood friend Truman Capote went to Kansas to research the crime and its aftermath that would later become In Cold Blood. This reviewer only hopes that the errors found in this draft (e.g., Emmett Till was murdered in 1955, not 1954, and the name of the Broadway comedy star is Beatrice Lillie, not Lilly) will be corrected in the final copy of the book. Recommended for all public library and undergraduate library collections. (Index not seen.)-Morris Hounion, New York City Technical Coll. Lib., CUNY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Adult/High School-Shields takes on the elusive writer in this first-ever biography of her. Without direct input from his subject, the author's extensive research combines sources in local-history collections, interviews and correspondence with Lee's acquaintances, and Internet resources to piece together the details of the writer's life. Starting with Lee's childhood in Monroeville, AL, Shields depicts the people and events that inspired To Kill a Mockingbird's characters. A picture develops of a girl who would face down any bully, a nonconformist whose sorority roommates kicked her out after one semester but who made an impact on the campus with her presence, a woman with a wicked sense of humor and a writer with a voice and themes of prejudice and justice that resonate. Students and curious fans alike will find material here to further their understanding of her work and life. Extensive source notes and a student-friendly bibliography are included.-Charlotte Bradshaw, San Mateo County Library, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A determined but ultimately sketchy summary of the life of Lee, who shuns publicity and avoids biographers. Nelle Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) remains one of the most frequently taught novels in American high schools, and its author remains an impossible bird to lime. For his efforts, which consumed several years, Shields (known principally for his YA titles) has come away with only a few feathers. Virtually all of this biography deals with the years leading up to Lee's Mockingbird (childhood and college and law school) and with its immediate aftermath (the sales, the celebrity, the Pulitzer, the movie). Much of what the author provides for the ensuing 40 years are anecdote and rumor and reports of rare sightings. There are many pages about Lee's collaboration with Truman Capote on In Cold Blood (confirming much of the detail in the film Capote), with some attention to Capote's jealousy of Lee's success and his petty failure to acknowledge the great contributions she made (Shields examined her capacious notes among Capote's papers). Shields has read every piece published about Lee, every interview she granted (some he reproduces at length), but because Lee refused to cooperate (and told her friends to be silent), Shields cannot answer the most fundamental questions that readers and fans have: Why has Harper Lee never published another book? Has she been writing but just not publishing? Lee's mind and heart likewise remain enigmatic. Lee's Cerberus is her older sister Alice (now in her mid-90s), who said years ago that a burglar stole Lee's nearly completed manuscript of her second novel (or, perhaps, a dog ate it). And Lee abandoned a true-crime book that she researched foryears. Shields's prose is generally unremarkable-sometimes silly ("The wind blew back her short chestnut hair. . . .") and cliched. Proof that the aging avian continues to elude and frustrate pursuers.