Stalking Harper Lee

Jan 5 2013 @ 3:44pm

In search of the famously reclusive author, Amy Whitaker arrived in Monroeville, Alabama, on the weekend of Lee’s birthday, where she met a friendly guide from the local museum:

Dawn is at her lemonade stand when I arrive in the town square. I will later realize that Dawn was an outsider herself, and this status makes her — through holistic and simple empathy — part of the welcoming committee or membrane of the town. Museum volunteers surround her, already staged around the courthouse to welcome visitors for that evening’s sold out show of the To Kill a Mockingbird play the town puts on each spring. Dawn, who has only just met me, makes introductions. They ask if I have heard about the "mystery guest" at lunch today. I have missed Harper Lee’s cameo by two hours. Apparently, the Alabama Writers Symposium — idiot-savant stalker luck, take two: it is the weekend of their meeting — gives an annual Harper Lee Award, this time to Fannie Flagg. Miss Lee was not expected. They tell me that someone stopped by to visit her that morning and told her they were giving the award. She replied, "That sounds nice. Can I have one too?," and then came along.

Whitaker didn't meet Lee, but she didn't consider the trip a bust either:

Harper Lee’s own life sounds fascinating, and I start to fantasize that she is a person I would have liked to be friends with, or even who is a little bit like myself. But to make her a character instead of a person — even inside her own mythology — is not as interesting as the living breathing life-as-art practice of all the townspeople who guard her privacy fiercely, who work as the bank CEO by day and play Atticus by night, and who print me a volunteer nametag even though I can’t give directions to anything but the ladies room, and offer me Styrofoam cups of Malibu Tropical Mojito out of a giant Capri-Sun container as we chat with Miss Stephanie backstage during the play.

For another great take on stalking a writer's hometown, revisit Mira Ptacin's pilgrimmage to E.B. White's cabin.