Mockingbird Songs: A New Chapter from Harper Lee

Wayne Flynt Interview with the author of Mockingbird Songs

Professor Wayne FlyntMockingbird Songs: A New Chapter from Harper Lee

Wayne Flynt, the renowned expert on culture in the Southern United States and Professor Emeritus at Auburn University, has created a wonderful tribute to the beloved author Harper Lee, and her fans are clamoring to read the new work.  Last year, Flynt announced his decision to publish a collection of letters between himself and the iconic Lee.  Those letters will include a wealth of correspondence written between 1992 and February, 2016 when Lee passed away.  Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee may well be the final publication of words written by Harper Lee.

Mockingbird Songs: An Intimate Look into the Relationship between the Authors

Wayne Flynt chose to make the history of Alabama the focal point of his career after reading To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s first book and a work that took the world by storm when it delved into the moral and political dynamics of a fictional town in Alabama during the 1930s.  Maycomb, AL, was based on Lee’s home town of Monroeville, and Flynt immediately recognized the contribution of Lee’s work and the impact it would have.  When Flynt eventually became a respected friend of the Lee family, a relationship of admiration between the two authors was forged.  What makes that relationship indelible is that much of it is chronicled in the letters between them.

Mockingbird Songs: A Fitting Tribute to a Woman Who Changed the World

Flynt is now offering the collection of letters that he has long cherished to the rest of the world.  The first comes from a time when Lee was still residing in New York, while others trace a developing friendship as it becomes a lifelong relationship.  Mockingbird Songs will be published May 2, 2017, and is another—and likely the final–opportunity for Harper Lee fans to read her wit, wisdom and candor in her own words.

Mockingbird Songs: Available Soon

At Ol’ Curiosities, we look forward to Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee  and again celebrating the hometown author we love. Order your certified keepsake copy today.

Mockingbird Songs by Wayne Flynt

Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee
Wayne Flynt and Harper Lee. Flynt is holding his granddaughter, Harper, who’s named in Lee's honor. Photo by James Hansen, originally published by
Wayne Flynt and Harper Lee. Flynt is holding his granddaughter, Harper, who’s named in Lee’s honor. Photo by James Hansen, originally published by

Wayne Flynt, Professor Emeritus at Auburn University, and an expert on Southern culture, poverty, religions in the South, and politics of the South and Alabama, has created a beautiful tribute to one of the most beloved American writers of all time, and he has done so in a way few expected—he’s published a collection of letters between his friend and fellow author, Harper Lee, and himself, written between 1992 and Lee’s death in February, 2016.  It is to be titled, Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee.

Mockingbird Songs: About Author Wayne Flynt

Born on October 4, 1940 in Potonoc, Mississippi, to a teacher and a salesman, Wayne Flynt holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Samford University (formerly Howard College), and a Masters of Science and Doctorate degree from Florida State University.  He is also the editor-in-chief for the online Encyclopedia of Alabama, sponsored by Auburn University and the Alabama Humanities Foundation.

In addition to Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee and other works, Flynt has previously published Poor But Proud: Alabama’s Poor Whites (1990), Alabama in the 20th Century (2006), and Alabama: A History of the Deep South State (2010). He is considered one of the foremost authorities on the American South and specifically, Alabama. Poor But Proud and A History of the Deep South were both nominated for Pulitzer Prizes.

Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper LeeAt one point, Wayne Flynt left Alabama based at least in part on his feelings about the violence that transpired during a haunting era of the American South, but even more important was Flynt’s later decision to make Alabama’s history the focal point of his career after reading a book by a never-before-published Alabama author, Harper Lee.  Flynt eventually became a friend of the Lee family, well respected by sisters Louise, Alice, and Nelle (Harper), and the two writers stayed in touch for years.

Mockingbird Songs: A Look into the Life of the Author We Lost

The intimate correspondence detailed between Flynt and Lee in Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee, which began at a time when Harper Lee was still residing in New York, begins fairly formally, according to the publisher, but traces the growth of a friendship that stood the tests of years, fame, health concerns, and social issues.  It will be published May 2, 2017, and documents a 25-year friendship between the two writers and their families.  The result is a work through which Lee’s fans will understand her better and learn more about her in her very own words.

Mockingbird Songs: A Celebration

At Ol’ Curiosities, we believe that Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee will be nothing less than a celebration of one of the most prominent American authors of all time, and we want to celebrate its release accordingly.  Stay tuned for some exciting announcements to follow in the next few weeks.

Charles J. Shields: A Remembrance of Harper Lee

Charles J. Shields

Charles Shields BiographyCharles J. Shields: Background

Charles J. Shields is a literary biographer and the author of the newly revised, MockingbirdA Portrait of Harper Lee, from Scout to Go Set a Watchman (Holt 2016). The earlier version in 2006 became a  New York Times bestseller. He and his wife reside in Charlottesville, Virginia. Upon request, Charles Shields gifted us with the following remembrance of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird:

Charles J. Shields: A Remembrance of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

I grew up in what was called a planned community for ex-GIs and their families, south of Chicago, after World War II. As a child, I thought everyone’s father had been in the military and now worked in the city. All of my classmates were white. This wasn’t just happenstance: it was the result of the community developers, banks, and local realtors discouraging minority families from purchasing homes in that town. The first Black American to shake my hand was the father of a friend on the track team who was giving me a lift home, my junior year of high school. I feel ashamed remembering how strange that moment felt.

When I visit high schools today, I’m struck by a paradox. Racism is not the issue it once was because the students are so diverse; and yet, To Kill a Mockingbird is all the more teachable. Now, the novel inspires discussions in the classroom about differences of religion, politics, and lifestyle, and understanding “the other.” The book has become a springboard for confronting forms of discrimination and hatred most readers wouldn’t have considered fifty years ago.

To Kill a Mockingbird will continue to be read however because of a trait it has in common with all great works of literature. All enduring works of literature read you, the reader, as you read the book. What I mean is, important books and stories probe your convictions; silently, they ask what you stand for. You can leave a piece of escapism on an airplane seat and not think about it again because, well, you’ve never been a movie star; you don’t belong to a secret, criminal organization. But when you read To Kill a Mockingbird, you have to wonder, even if just subconsciously: Would I do what Atticus did? Would you risk being vilified for sticking to your principles? What if people said, as they hint to Atticus, that your children are suffering because of what you’re doing? What if a family member, such as Atticus’s brother Jack, argued it was wrong-headed and foolish of you to ruin your reputation over a forgettable incident with a predictable outcome?

That’s why it’s good to reread To Kill a Mockingbird now and againbecause the story reminds you that it isn’t easy to be a better human being, but it’s important for all of us to try.

You can learn more about Charles J. Shields at  You can share your own remembrance of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by emailing us at


Charles J. Shields: Interview with the Author

Charles J. Shields

Charles J. ShieldsCharles J. Shields is a noted biographer and author of  Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee from Scout to Go Set a Watchman (Holt, 2016); John Williams: The Man Who Wrote the Perfect Novel (Lebowski, 2016); And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, 2016);  and I Am Scout: A Young Adult Biography (Holt, 2008).   Shields is also the co-founder of BIO, the Biographers International Organization, a non-profit aimed at promoting the “art and craft of biography.”

Charles J. Shields: Background

OCBS: Tell us a little about yourself and your background.  How do you think your upbringing affected you as an author?

Charles J. Shields: My father was a journalist. I described how he taught me to become a better writer in “The Editor at the Breakfast Table,” which is available here.

OCBS: Have you always wanted to be a writer?  If not, what else did you consider as a career and why?

Charles J. Shields: I wanted to be a writer because it was something that made me different in school. As Kurt Vonnegut discovered in high school, writing came easily to him when others complained that it was hard. All young people want to be competent at something: I was a good writer.

The other career I pursued was teaching. I became a teacher because I like schools and children. But after 20 years, I left in 1997 to write fulltime.

Charles J. Shields on Writing

OCBS: You’ve written a number of very successful biographies.  What are your goals for your career now?

Charles J. Shields: I need to try a different genre, now that I’ve completed a third trade biography, this one of John Williams, author of the novel, Stoner (1965). It will be published next year in Europe. I’m too accustomed to writing literary biographies, and I think I’ve gone as far as I can go. It isn’t the challenge it was.

OCBS: If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

Charles J. Shields: I’m envious when an author publishes a literary biography about someone I had hoped to write about, such as Tracy Daugherty did with Joan Didion. But I can’t wish to have been the author of a book written by someone else. That sounds like a problem for a therapist.

OCBS: Which other writers inspire you?  Why?

Charles J. Shields: I’m impressed by any book or article in which the writer figuratively grabs me by the collar and says, “Listen to this!” Recently, I’ve read two novels: Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson; Never Mind by Edward St. Aubyn; a memoir: When All the World Was Young by Barbara Holland; a collection of essays: The Medusa and the Snail, by biologist Lewis Thomas; and Citizen, which is prose/poetry by Claudia Rankin. I’ve enjoyed all of them because the writers speak directly to me.

OCBS: What’s your favorite genre to read?  To write?  Why?

Charles J. Shields: I prefer reading and writing nonfiction— history, biography, literary journalism and criticism— because the art of explaining ideas and finding meaning in what actually happened appeals to me. Today I read ” Unearthing the Secrets of 
New York’s Mass Graves” in the New York Times and it floored me.

OCBS: Are there other writers with whom you’d like to collaborate?  Who? Why?

Charles J. Shields: No, I’ve never seriously considered working with someone else. I prefer working and being alone.

OCBS: What advice can you offer aspiring authors?

Charles J. Shields: Get into print any way you can. Freelance for the local newspaper; contribute articles to trade magazines or journals in your field; write an opinion piece. Submit poetry to online magazines. Become accustomed to having readers who may or may not like your work. Tell people in social situations that you’re a writer— confidently, unapologetically. But don’t depend on anyone’s approval. Believe in yourself and your work.

OCBS: What caveats does writing a biography include that aren’t necessarily a part of writing other genres?

Charles J. Shields: Well, it’s possible to hurt relatives, children, and partners if you write biographies of contemporary people, which is what I do. Whether the truth demands it is something I have to decide.

OCBS: What is the hardest thing about writing overall?

Charles J. Shields: The isolation. The world goes on while you sit in a room, noticing how the seasons change out the window as you continue to write, and write, and write.

OCBS: Who is your support system, i.e. the first to read your work, review it, and critique it?  How do you choose these advisors?

Charles J. Shields: My wife Guadalupe is my first reader. She’s a very intelligent, critical reader and I value her opinion. I also send out chapters to certain people who were part of the story to get their opinion. But except for factual mistakes they catch, I don’t find the process to be very helpful. They say, “Terrific!” and things like that. In the end, what matters to me is what I think.

More About Charles J. Shields

OCBS: What is your favorite saying and why?

Charles J. Shields: My own: “The great purpose in life is to take your destiny out of the hands of other people.”

OCBS: What advice would you give to your younger self?

Charles J. Shields: Stop judging people.

OCBS: What do you want your readers to know about you?

Charles J. Shields: I live at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and I like it here.

Make sure to visit our blog again soon for Shields’ remembrance of Harper Lee.  You can learn more about Charles J. Shields at



Black Belt Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Luncheon


On January 29th, 2016 a luncheon was held inducting two new members into the Black Belt Hall of Fame. The luncheon was held at the Bell Conference Center at The University of West Alabama, located in Livingston, Alabama. The purpose of the Black Belt Hall of Fame is to bring recognition to and honor individuals who are associated with the Black Belt region and have had an influential impact on the region, State, nation, and the world through their contributions of art, business, education, industry, medicine, politics and science.

The 2016 honorees were Dr. Wayne Flynt and Nelle Harper Lee. Dr. Flynt and his family were there for his induction, and a small group of family and friends of Ms. Lee were there to accept the induction on her behalf, since she was not able to attend.

The Luncheon

The luncheon began with a welcome from Dr. Tim Edwards, provost of The University of West Alabama, followed by an invocation led by local minister, Rev. Barrett Abernethy from the First Presbyterian Church of Livingston. Then a buffet style lunch was served. As lunch was winding down, Ms. Amy Christiansen, archivist at The University of West Alabama presented the 2016 inductees.

Dr. Wayne Flynt

Dr. Wayne Flynt was born on October 4, 1940 in Pontotoc, Mississippi. He attended Howard College and received both an MS and PhD from Florida State University. He taught at Samford University for twelve years and then became a member of the faculty of Auburn University. He has been an instructor there for twenty-eight years and has become a distinguished Professor Emeritus. Dr. Flynt has written and co-authored twelve books, including Dixie’s Forgotten People, Alabama Baptists, Alabama in the Twentieth Century and a personal memoir entitled Keeping the Faith. Dr. Flynt was the first editor for the Encyclopedia of Alabama, which is an online publication. He has received numerous awards, including: the Lillian Smith Book Award, the Clarence Cason Book Award, the Clarence Cason Award in Nonfiction Writing, two Alabama Literary Association awards, two James F. Sulzby awards, the Judson-Rice Award and an induction into the Alabama Academy of Honor.

Dr. Flynt’s induction was introduced by Nancy Anderson, retired English professor at Auburn University at Montgomery, and long time friend of Flynt. Then Dr. Flynt gave his speech, and his induction plaque was unveiled by Ms. Christiansen.

Dr. Wayne Flynt, and OCBS employee Kristen Chandler

Nelle Harper Lee

Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama on April 28, 1926. She has had a huge literary impact on Alabama, America and the world. She attended Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama. Lee then moved from Alabama to New York to pursue her writing career. It was in New York that she wrote and later in 1960, published her literary treasure, To Kill A Mockingbird. Lee received a Pulitzer Prize for her debut novel and it has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Lee also wrote Go Set A Watchman in 1956, but it was not published until 2015. Watchman was at one time intended to be the first novel in a trilogy. She has also written several short stories and essays, including “Christmas to Me.” Ms. Lee’s awards include the Presidential Award of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts.

Dr. Wayne Flynt, fellow inductee and long time friend of Ms. Lee, introduced the induction of Lee. At the time of this luncheon, Ms. Lee was still alive but unable to attend an event so far from home. Ms. Lee’s nephew, Herschel H. “Hank” Lee made the induction speech in Lee’s honor, telling not only of her great achievements but memories he had of Nelle and Alice, from his own childhood. Ms. Lee’s plaque was then unveiled.

Friends and family of Nelle Harper Lee with her plaque
The induction plaque for the 2016 induction of Nelle Harper Lee into the Black Belt Hall of Fame

Dr. Tina Naremore Jones, Executive Director of The Division of Economic Development and Outreach gave the closing remarks. Dr. Flynt had a table set up with his books, available for purchase, after the luncheon. Ol’ Curiosities and Book Shoppe was honored to be asked to have a table selling various editions of To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman on behalf of Ms. Lee.

Did you attend the Black Belt Hall of Fame luncheon? Do you know anyone that has been previously inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame? We would love to hear your thoughts!


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Review

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

When The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks came across my desk to review, I was pretty excited as I had heard so much about it, plus I am a pretty big fan of non-fiction. Until the last few years I only read non-fiction because I believed fiction was a waste of valuable time that could be spent learning something new. I thought if I was going to spend time reading, I should read something to broaden my mind. I have since then learned that fiction and non-fiction both have a role to play in learning and development of ideas, opinions, and a well-rounded mind.

About the Person Henrietta Lacks

So who is Henrietta Lacks? She was born as Loretta Pleasant on August 1, 1920, in Roanoke, Virginia. She was an impoverished black woman who, aside from her five children, made no significant contributions to society during her lifetime. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951, and a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital performed scrapings of her cervical cells. These scrapings were sent to researcher Dr. George Otto Gey who discovered that her cancer cells survived an unusually long time outside the body. He replicated her “immortal” cells to create the HeLa cell line, and it has been the gold standard in cell lines used in medical research ever since.

About the Book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

When you dive into The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, you will notice Rebecca Skloot took a different approach to writing this biography than most would. She not only tells the story of Henrietta Lacks but also the story of her family’s struggle coming to terms with her cells still being alive. Deborah Lacks is the daughter of Henrietta Lacks, and she has a hard time understanding everything going on with her mother’s cells and the contribution the cells have made to science. The author also has a struggle dealing with the various Lacks’ family members and maintaining an open and honest relationship with them. The story takes a lot of twists and turns while telling multiple stories, but somehow she seems to maintain your attention by tying all the stories together. This unusual structure kept me intrigued. The combination of both Henrietta’s story and her daughter’s, along with the author’s journey, keeps you reading until the very last page.

Have you read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? Tell us your thoughts on it in the comments section below.