The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills

Harper Lee, author of the “national touchstone,” To Kill a Mockingbird, withdrew from the relentless vortex of fame and never published another book. Her silence, like that of J. D. Salinger, has been a compelling literary mystery. When To Kill a Mockingbird was chosen for One Book, One Chicago in 2001, Chicago Tribune reporter Mills traveled to Lee’s Alabama hometown, certain that she would never get anywhere near the author. Instead, Mills found herself living a literary fairy tale, as Alice, Harper’s older sister by 15 years, still working as an attorney in her nineties, ushered Mills into their book-filled home. Soon Mills, much to her astonishment, is watching football games, going fishing, and sharing meals with Alice, Nelle (Harper is her middle name), and their friends. When the Lees express their hope that Mills will record their reminiscences and “set the record straight,” she rents the house next door and devotes herself to listening to tales of the Lee family; Nelle’s relationship with their childhood neighbor, Truman Capote (“Truman was a psychopath, honey”); and the nearly overwhelming repercussions of Nelle’s novel. Mills’ struggles with lupus bring her even closer to the sisters. As she portrays the exceptional Lee women and their modest, slow-paced world with awed precision, Mills creates a uniquely intimate, ruminative, and gently illuminating biographical memoir.

About the Author

Marja Mills is a former reporter and feature writer for the Chicago Tribune, where she was a member of the staff that won a Pulitzer Prize for a 2001 series about O'Hare Airport entitled "Gateway to Gridlock." The Mockingbird Next Door is her first book.

Mills was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. She is a 1985 graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service; a lifelong interest in other cultures led to studies in Paraguay, Spain and Sweden. Mills lives in downtown Chicago and often spends time in Madison and her father's hometown of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, pop. 3,500.

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