Remembrances of To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee, who has died at 89, are likely to focus on what has become the central narrative of her life: that she wrote one novel to tremendous success, withdrew from public life and lived largely in seclusion. That narrative was underscored last year when she surprised the world with the release a second novel, Go Set a Watchman, which had a fascinating backstory of its own.
It#8217s easy to see why that narrative captivates fans of Lee#8217s writing, and it#8217s certainly an important part of her biographymdashbut it can often overshadow another element of her personality, one that was well known in the years before she became more reluctant to engage with her own celebrity.
Harper Lee was funny.
In fact, one of her first forays into writing was for the campus humor magazine at the University of Alabama, Rammer Jammer. She eventually became editor. (Many full issues, including those she edited, can be read at the University of Alabama library websitemdashthough not all of the humor holds up more than a half-century later.) And in the months after the 1960 release of To Kill a Mockingbird, she was known as a #8220modest, easygoing#8221 writer who possessed a #8220delightful, down-to-earth humor.#8221The Brief Newsletter Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know right now. View Sample Sign Up Now
Her interviews were sprinkled with quips that proved the point: When Lee was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her first novel, TIME quoted her as saying that it was #8220handsome recompense for #8216the long and hopeless period of writing the book over and over