Letters from Nelle Harper Lee

I never expected to write this blog – at least not for a long time.

Nelle was always going to be in Monroeville, and I was always not going to bother her.

I had heard of women who showed up with flowers at the assisted living facility – The Meadows – to thank her for writing To Kill a Mockingbird.

Strangers. Yuck. One woman wrote me and said something like: “And she wasn’t even glad to see me. And I brought her flowers to say thank you!”

I shuddered at the note.

Why would you do that?

They eventually set up a guard to ward off would-be visitors.

I wrote the following essay for the Los Angeles Times. “Leaving Santa Behind.”

It was published in 2007, and I sent it to her. I was already writing her biography for teens, and she knew this, but I wanted to show her I wrote other things too.

I wanted her to know I wasn’t a stalker.

I never expected a reply.

The essay was about my son, Flannery, and how when he was nine-years-old,  the only thing he wanted for Christmas was to believe in Santa Claus again.

The op-ed began:

‘THE ONLY THING I want for Christmas is to believe in Santa Claus again.” My 9-year-old son, Flannery, whispered this to me 10 years ago. We were walking up one of the secret staircases in Silver Lake at the time, stepping on the scattered hard, brown berries, dried leaves and flaming bits of bougainvillea.


Nelle Harpe Lee was buried today in Monroeville. I moved to Alabama because of Harper Lee. I was doing research and school visits and heard about a job at UAB and applied never dreaming I’d get it. I did get it and moved here in 2009. My daughter, Norah, joined me a year later and is now a junior in high school.

Here are the letters I received from Harper Lee. The second letter is when she asked me not to visit, and I didn’t.

I understood.

Rest in peace, Nelle Harper Lee.

I have so much more to say, but that will be for another day.

page 1 Harper Lee letterpage 2 Harper LeeHarper Lee Letter about not being wellHarper Lee for Norah


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