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Harper Lee Remembered As Reclusive


Harper Lee's longtime friend Wayne Flynt will be delivering the eulogy at her funeral. He joins us on the line from Monroeville. Welcome, Mr. Flynt, and I'm so sorry for your and I guess all of our loss.

WAYNE FLYNT: Yeah, I think it's a sort of global loss, given the popularity of the novel across the world.

WERTHEIMER: Can you give us a sense about your friendship with Harper Lee? You have been in very close contact with her in the last years of her life.

FLYNT: That's correct. On average, once a month for the last 10 years since her stroke, we have sat and talked and told stories and exchanged insults...


FLYNT: ...Which she loves. I think one secret to our friendship was I did not treat her like a marble woman, and my wife - I joked with her, and I joked with her, and that was the sort of contours of our friendship.

WERTHEIMER: What's been on her mind, do you think, at - toward the end of her life? What was on her mind?

FLYNT: I would say what was always on her mind was the stories she had to tell, and the story was pretty obvious in "To Kill A Mockingbird," maybe a bit - little bit less obvious and more obscure in "Go Set A Watchman."

WERTHEIMER: Which was a new - an unpublished book, which was just published recently.

FLYNT: Yes, that's right. It was actually her first book, but people can't get their heads around the fact that the central story she wanted to tell was the story of "Go Set A Watchman." And then when her editor and her agent tells America, who's not quite ready for that story, and I'm not sure America is ready for that story in 2016, as a matter of fact. She recast this story and the brilliant characterizations of the three children into a different book, and that became "To Kill A Mockingbird."

WERTHEIMER: There's been so much written about Harper Lee, and one of the things that you read over and over again is that she was famously reclusive. Is there something about her that we may not know and you think we ought to know?

FLYNT: Yes, she was legendarily private. I've never known such a private woman in my life. It's no surprise that she left Monroeville, a gossipy little southern town where everybody wants to know everybody's business, and went to the most anonymous city in America.

WERTHEIMER: New York City.

FLYNT: And she loved New York City. She gloried in being able to go to Broadway and people not recognize her, eating out and not having people come up to the table to remind her that their grandmother had been in school with her (laughter). She felt this world down here was a claustrophobic world.

WERTHEIMER: Do think that Ms. Lee took great satisfaction in knowing that "To Kill A Mockingbird" really deeply affected many generations of Americans, it was read by millions of students?

FLYNT: Oh, yes, absolutely. As a matter of fact, I constantly tell audiences all over the world that the single greatest icon of American culture from the publication of "To Kill A Mockingbird" was that novel so that if we say, what conversation can we have that would lead us on a road of tolerance, and teachers have decided that if you're going to teach values in a school in America, the answer that American teachers at all kinds of schools have come up with, just let Harper Lee teach "To Kill A Mockingbird." And then all the teacher has to do is stand back and guide the discussion.

WERTHEIMER: Wayne Flynt will deliver the eulogy at Harper Lee's funeral. Mr. Flynt, thank you very much for speaking with us and again, so sorry that you've lost such a good friend.

FLYNT: Yes, and so is the world. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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