Today marks the release of an updated version of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, first published in the spring of 2007. When author Charles J. Shields (pictured) spoke with The New York Times’ Alexandra Alter about his research process, he touched on a fascinating result of those efforts.
The author was able to uncover an article which, though written by Lee, did not carry her byline. It was about the murders that inspired In Cold Blood:
“I went back to look at newspapers in Garden City, Kan., and I stumbled across a little mention in a column that said, our visitor Harper Lee will be writing about what’s been happening on the case for the FBI magazine The Grapevine. Then I contacted The Grapevine. They said, ‘Yeah, there’s been a reference to that over the years but we can’t find anything.'”
“I told them to look in the spring of 1960. There indeed was an article than only Lee could have written because it was so full of info that would later appear in In Cold Blood. I speculate that there was no byline because she really didn’t want to tread on Truman Capote’s story. It’s a long flattering article about the great work chief investigator Alvin Dewey is doing on the case and how Truman is going to get to the bottom of it. It was an unselfish act from a friend.”
Other documents unearthed by Shields reveal that Lee appeared to have quite the crush on the “drop-dead handsome” Dewey.
Shields has also written a Young Adult version of his Lee biography, crafted portraits of Kurt Vonnegut and a more obscure novelist, John Williams, and in 2009 he co-founded Biographers International Organization (BIO) with fellow biographers Nigel Hamilton, James McGrath Morris and Debby Applegate. Read the rest of his conversation with Alter here and check out the agenda for BIO’s forthcoming annual conference here.
Photo of Shields via: Amazon