The Author of "The Mockingbird Next Door," a Bestselling Harper-Lee-and-Me Memoir, Appears in Tulsa

Dec 8, 2014

On this presentation of ST, we speak with Marja Mills, a former reporter and feature writer with The Chicago Tribune. Mills is also the author of a bestselling memoir, "The Mockingbird Next Door," which details the time she spent getting to know novelist Harper Lee -- the author, of course, of the immortal "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- as well as Lee's older sister, Alice. Mills will discuss this recently published book (its origins, its development, its major findings, and so on) tonight, Monday the 8th, at 6:30pm at a Book Smart Tulsa event at the Circle Cinema. Then there will be a screening of the classic film version of Lee's novel -- the Oscar-winning movie starring Gregory Peck -- at 7:30pm. (More about this event can be found at this link.) As was noted of "The Mockingbird Next Door" in a starred review in Booklist: "Harper Lee, author of the 'national touchstone,' 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' withdrew from the relentless vortex of fame and never published another book. Her silence, like that of J. D. Salinger, has been a compelling literary mystery. When 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was chosen for One Book, One Chicago in 2001, Chicago Tribune reporter Mills traveled to Lee's Alabama hometown, certain that she would never get anywhere near the author. Instead, Mills found herself living a literary fairy tale, as Alice, Harper's older sister by 15 years, still working as an attorney in her nineties, ushered Mills into their book-filled home. Soon Mills, much to her astonishment, is watching football games, going fishing, and sharing meals with Alice, Nelle (Harper is her middle name), and their friends. When the Lees express their hope that Mills will record their reminiscences and 'set the record straight,' she rents the house next door and devotes herself to listening to tales of the Lee family; Nelle's relationship with their childhood neighbor, Truman Capote ('Truman was a psychopath, honey'); and the nearly overwhelming repercussions of Nelle's novel. Mills' struggles with lupus bring her even closer to the sisters. As she portrays the exceptional Lee women and their modest, slow-paced world with awed precision, Mills creates a uniquely intimate, ruminative, and gently illuminating biographical memoir."