Gore Vidal said of Truman Capote that his death was a good career move. It was some other wit who coined the phrase "the Forster effect", by which a writer becomes more famous the less he or she writes. Ralph Ellison is one exemplar, J. D. Salinger another. Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, who has died at the age of eighty-nine, is yet another.
It was not Lee's fault that the most newsworthy thing about her became her desire not to be in the news. She avoided journalists--so they flocked to her door. As with Salinger and that other hermit, Thomas Pynchon, the prospect of a story was worth any amount of reportorial bad conscience. Lee wrote a good novel (though not as good as mythology suggests), then chose to remain silent. The journalistic imperative is unstoppable: break her silence.
Interest in Lee's seclusion began in earnest in 2014, with the publication of The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills, who moved to Monroeville, Alabama, and lived next door to Lee and her sister Alice. Her place in their lives was nicely phrased by a Guardian journalist:At the height of her involvement with the Lees, Mills regularly went driving around Alabama with Harper, as well as accompanying her to McDonald's for coffee, to the laundromat, to feed ducks.... She spent precious time at their house: "They were reading peacefully, companionably, as they did so many evenings. Routine for them. Magical for me."
And for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird. Reading peacefully! Feeding ducks! Magic....