Charles J. Shields Offers Portrait of Harper Lee

Mockingbird A portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields
Mockingbird A portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields

Charles J. Shields Sheds Light on Harper Lee

Charles J. Shields has written an exceptionally comprehensive biography of Harper Lee in his Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. In order to do so, he not only interviewed everyone he could find who had any sort of contact with the renowned but somewhat reclusive author (and more than 600 such interviews took place), but anyone who might have valid information about her—or, for that matter, the places she lived, worked, played and worshipped.

Of course, Harper Lee did not give Charles Shields permission to publish the book. She later said of another biography—The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills—“Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood.” Shields did publish, though, and in doing so provided the world with a window into the life and mind of an author who has been credited with changing the nation, one reader at a time.

Charles J. Shields Gives Us a Detailed Picture of the Author We Love

From writing a detailed account of her family life and going on to offer exceptional insight into even the most minute details of Harper Lee’s story—describing her first Manhattan apartment down to the fabric on the chairs and regaling his audience of Lee’s relationships with her parents and siblings, even noting her favorite snacks—hot buttered biscuits—as a child, served at the home of her best friend’s (Truman Capote’s) aunts, Shields shines a light on Harper Lee that no one else has. Anecdotal information creates the foundation for the tale he weaves—the story of the great storyteller.

Charles J. Shields Takes Us Along to Learn About In Cold Blood

Shields also delivers a vivid explanation of how Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood came to be, with the help of Nelle Harper Lee as his devoted assistant. Lee was perhaps the reason insiders to the real-life murder story opened up to the somewhat pushy and self-indulgent Capote.  Shields his readers along on what must have been some trip to complete the “non-fiction novel” to which Nelle Harper Lee’s input was beyond valuable.

Charles J. Shields Gives His Audience a Valuable Resource

Overall, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, is an exceptional and well researched biography (even though Lee herself never authorized it). It is certain to be an asset to students of To Kill a Mockingbird and her fans in general. As Lee wasn’t one for telling the world who she was exactly, this biography may be as close as we can come to telling her story completely, and therefore, its attention to detail and thorough research should be well appreciated by scholars and followers of Harper Lee for many years to come.

Have you read Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee? If so, what did you find most telling in this narrative about Harper Lee’s character and talents?

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