The famously private, Alabama-born author was surprisingly candid in a series of letters exchanged with her friends Doris and Bill Leapard, and pen pal Don Salter throughout the 1990s, which are now being auctioned off by Nate D. Sanders this week.
Lee, who passed away at age 89 last month – not long after her decades-old To Kill A Mockingbird followup was published – decidedly withdrew from public life after becoming a literary darling. While maintaining a friendship with author Truman Capote, Lee still avoided any publicity, even opting not to accept the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom in person.
But the author’s wit is evident in the 29 signed letters available for purchase online, and even aspects of her home life in Monroeville are divulged.
In a note from 1990, Lee laments fan requests for money and gifts, writing, “You will never believe what people take it into their heads to ask for: everything from, ‘Send two autographed first editions of Mockingbird’ to ‘Send $850 to help me get a new TV-VCR machine so I can look at the movie.’ They don’t even say please ‘ ”
Another, dated Nov. 26, 1990, includes details of an evening at a restaurant when Lee couldn’t stop giggling “for no apparent reason,” and said she found herself laughing consistently.
Some feature commentary on civil rights, and a critique of the literary scene in the South, while others detail mundane aspects of daily life, including the hot weather and her sister’s ear surgery.
Lee even quips of now-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s Atlantic City hotel: “The worst punishment God can devise for this sinner is to make her spirit reside eternally at the Trump Taj Mahal.”
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While many of the notes were written on a typewriter, others included Lee’s swirly penmanship and filled an array of fun greeting cards.
Her fear of media attention was clear in a note to Salter, a longtime fan with whom Lee regularly corresponded. Writing of an upcoming cataract surgery, Lee requested, “please don’t put this on the Internet or anything – I’d dread for it to bring more mail!”
For fans of Lee’s body of work, the letters – which start at $750 – are a final look at the words of a brilliant writer.