More than 50 years have passed since Harper Lee published “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and yet the novel remains a staple of public education in the United States. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month that the book “still sells more than 750,000 copies a year. In one typical six-month period in 2009, its royalties amounted to more than $1.6 million.”
In May, Lee filed suit in New York alleging that her former literary agent misled her into signing away her copyright to the book. The lawsuit has gained increasing notoriety in the national media, thanks in no small measure to the timeless popularity of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the compelling aspect of shady schemers allegedly taking advantage of an aging author.
Using that lawsuit as a news hook, a feature article in the August issue of Vanity Fair provides several fascinating details about Lee’s life — a life that has rarely been documented in the mainstream media because Lee stopped giving media interviews in 1964. For example, Mark Seal reported about everything from the genesis of “To Kill a Mockingbird” (in 1956 Lee was a law-school dropout and airline reservationist living in New York when her friends gave her a Christmas card that simply read, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”), to her current diminished physical capacity, (Methodist minister and close friend Thomas Lane Butts said, “She is paralyzed on the left side, profoundly deaf, 95 percent blind, and has very poor memory.”).