Charles Shields, author of Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee, has also given us I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee. This quick and compelling read is offers up tremendous insight into the life and times of one of America’s favorite authors.
I Am Scout: The Beginnings of Harper Lee
I Am Scout begins with an anecdotal story of seven-year-old Nelle Harper Lee pulling larger boys off of a small and easily whipped Truman Persons (aka Truman Capote), during a fairly common school-yard ruckus. The pair has an unlikely and uncommon friendship that will last for years and will have a lasting effect on them both. From the beginning, it seems Nelle is Truman’s protector.
Other relationships in the life of Nelle Lee are also examined: Her relationship with her mother, largely no more than a background reference in the author’s life; her relationship with her beloved father, Amasa Coleman Lee on whom the character Atticus is based; and her relationship with her sister, Alice, the closest of her siblings, some 15 years her senior who was the family’s caregiver in so many ways, and who also was a successful female attorney well into her 90s, no small feat now or then.
I Am Scout: Harper Lee’s Defining Moments
The major creative turning points of Nelle’s life are also explored—the time she spent at Huntington College, and the University of Alabama; her decision not to practice law, but rather to write; her offer of assistance to Truman Capote as he researched the infamous “non-fiction novel,” In Cold Blood. Of course, high on that last is the publication and praise she receives for To Kill a Mockingbird and the transformation of the novel into an acclaimed and eventually Academy-Award-winning screenplay.
Through it all, Shields gives us a taste of Nelle Harper Lee’s tastes and temperament, the personality and background that created the book that would be read and loved by millions over decades and around the world. It seems her story not only parallels that of her protagonist, Scout Finch, but is just as critical a tale in its own right.
For lovers of To Kill a Mockingbird, I Am Scout is a wonderful companion piece by which to know the author better and to better understand exactly how the story of Nelle Harper Lee and Jean Louise “Scout” Finch are so intricately intertwined.
Have you read I Am Scout? Do you feel that Mockingbird is truly autobiographical? Has your opinion of Harper Lee changed since reading the Charles J. Shields book? If so, how?