Feb 6, 2015 10:10 PM
Friend: Harper Lee was fine the day before sequel announced
The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) A longtime friend who visited "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Harper Lee the day before the world learned she would release a sequel says she was feisty but didn't mention her new book.
Historian Wayne Flynt, a friend of the famous author, said he believes Lee was capable of giving permission for the previously unpublished manuscript to be released.
"This narrative of senility, exploitation of this helpless little old lady is just hogwash. It's just complete bunk," historian Wayne Flynt said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Flynt visited with Lee on Monday at the assisted-living facility where she lives in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. That was a day before a division of HarperCollins Publishers announced the publication of "Go Set a Watchman." The publisher said Tonja Carter, an attorney who practiced with Lee's sister, found the manuscript, which will be released in July as a sequel to the beloved novel.
She did not mention the "Mockingbird" sequel that was about to make international news during the visit.
Flynt said he believes Lee might have planned to tell him about her new novel, but didn't get the chance because he monopolized the first part of the conversation by showing her that "To Kill A Mockingbird" was still on the best-seller list more than 50 years after its first publication.
She was "deeply touched" and surprised by that fact, he said. They then talked about their families.
Flynt said Lee is capable of giving consent, although he acknowledges he doesn't know what the consent looked like. Lee is hard of hearing and uses a magnifying machine to enlarge print so she can read.
"I don't know whether it was, 'Nelle, you need to do this,' or 'Nelle, what do you think?' or 'Nelle, sign this because it's going to be financially wonderful for you.'"
"No one is ever going to know no reporter, not me, what was said in that room," Flynt said. He added, however, that he had no reason to doubt Carter's integrity.
Lee is severely hard of hearing, which is why some people likely think that she is cognitively impaired.
"She's 88 years old," Flynt said. "She has a profound hearing problem. You have to get right next to her right ear and shout. You may have to shout it three or four times."
For example, he said, during a January visit, he saw that she was reading a collection of works by C.S. Lewis and asked her about him.
"Bluish, who's bluish?" came the reply. After, a couple of tries, Lee was able to hear him. "Oh, C.S. Lewis, the greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century," she replied and then rattled off the names of his books.
"'The Screwtape Letters.' I love it," Lee said of the satirical novel that chronicles a veteran demon's attempts to tutor a protege in the art of tempting humans. Flynt said he also once gave her a tape of Monty Python actor John Cleese narrating "The Screwtape Letters."
"She roared," Flynt said.
The news of the unexpected sequel was met with excitement in Monroeville.
Monroe County Probate Judge Greg Norris said publication of "Go Set a Watchman" helps solidify the county's reputation as the "Literary Capital of Alabama."
"I've talked to somebody who's read it; I can't say who," said Norris. "But he or she said it's unreal."
Lee remains feisty despite her age and medical ailments, Flynt said. He said a statement Carter gave to the publisher that quotes the author as saying she is "happy as hell" about the new book is "vintage Harper Lee."
Flynt said he recently told Lee a story about his 4-year-old granddaughter, also named Harper. He recalled how he pointed to a large postal truck being driven by a woman, and asked the girl if she wanted to grow up to become a mail lady. "I'm no lady. I'm Harper Flynt," he said the girl replied, with narrowed eyes.
"She roared with laughter, and said, 'You tell Harper that she's just like me. I'm no lady either,'" Flynt said.