Is it uncharitable of me to have wondered if Wayne Flynt, the author of Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee, would have gone out of his way to befriend Harper Lee’s sisters, which led to a friendship with one of the most beloved authors of our time, Nelle Harper Lee, had she not been the author of To Kill a Mockingbird?
Flynt and his wife first met and befriended Harper Lee’s sister Louise, with whom he shared an interest in Alabaman history and literature, then another sister, Alice, and eventually, Nelle (Harper) herself. Nelle and Flynt became family friends, exchanging visits and letters over the last 25 years of Nelle’s life.
Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee includes the letters between the two families. As expected, Nelle’s letters to Flynt are funny and interesting. Reading her letters left me wanting to read other works by this author, which if they existed, I imagine would have come out of the woodwork by now.
Her letters show an increasing affection towards the Flynts. Eventually the Flynt’s got a little Harper of their own, when their grand-daughter was named for the Harper Lee. Nelle’s letter to the Flynts on receiving the news of a namesake was charming.
Nelle comes across as a very private person, although somewhat lonely. She struggled with ill-health and eye-troubles as she aged. In one letter she writes;
“The only thing I have to report is that Tom Carruthers said he couldn’t recall the word “ineluctable” which I use to describe the passing of days here. He said he hadn’t heard it in so long he couldn’t remember it.
Well, the days do go by with ineluctable sameness, but I feel most fortunate that they go by for me at all, lorn lone creature that I am.”
I had to look up ‘ineluctable’ to learn what it meant – something which can’t be avoided or escaped, even though I had caught the gist of the word from the passage.
Wayne Flynt has good credentials. He is Professor Emiritus in the History Department at Auburn University, the editor of an Encyclopedia of Alabama and has written loads of books about Alabama, plus he actually knew and was friends with Harper Lee, so we have to trust his judgement that she would have been happy for him to publish her letters.