Huffpost Books

Harper Lee Biographer Responds To Controversy Over Book's Authorization

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In an interview with HuffPost Live on Wednesday, author Marja Mills, who this week published The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee, responded to Harper Lee's statement claiming Mills misrepresented her relationship with Lee in the book. "I can tell you my experiences," Mills said in reply. "They were clear, they were engaged, and they were just wonderfully generous with their time."

Mills' book caused a stir in the publishing world, as it came with an apparent stamp of approval and full cooperation from the famously journalist-allergic Lee, who hasn't given an interview since 1964. Lee's firm refusal to give interviews for the past 50 years leaves reporters occasionally grasping at straws; in one absurd instance, The Mail on Sunday touted a conversation with Lee that contained nothing but Lee brightly brushing off the reporter in favor of going to feed ducks. Lee's participation in a biography would be unprecedented.

However, Lee has repeatedly denied involvement in or authorization of the book, first in 2011, after news of the book's upcoming publication was released, and again this week. Lee released a statement the day of the book's publication, saying:

Miss Mills befriended my elderly sister, Alice. It did not take long to discover Marja's true mission; another book about Harper Lee. I was hurt, angry and saddened, but not surprised. I immediately cut off all contact with Miss Mills, leaving town whenever she headed this way. [...] Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood.

Penguin Press, which published The Mockingbird Next Door, issued a statement indicating that they stand behind the book. Penguin also released a letter from Mills reaffirming her account and citing the support of Harper Lee's sister, Alice, and a close friend of Lee's, who both attest to the friendship that developed between Mills and the Lee sisters:

I can only speak to the truth, that Nelle Harper Lee and Alice F. Lee were aware I was writing this book and my friendship with both of them continued during and after my time in Monroeville. The stories they shared with me that I recount in the book speak for themselves. The written letter I have from Alice Lee, which she sent May 2011 in response to the original letter issued in Nelle’s name, makes clear that Nelle Harper Lee and Alice gave me their blessing. [...] In addition, Nelle’s good friend, Tom Butts, who I had the pleasure of getting to know during the course of writing this book and who remains a friend to this day, is also on the record in support of my work.

In her appearance on HuffPost Live, Mills again emphasized the "long and trusting relationship" she recalls having with the Lees: "By the time I rented the house next door, and, again, with both of their blessings and encouragement, I had known them three years."

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