Harper Lee died yesterday. Nearly 90 years old, she passed away quietly in her sleep.
The wave of sadness that swept over the world was precedented. This is what we do. We love our artists, don't we? We idolize them, we buy and promote and share their music or books or tickets, and then we claim them as part of our own identity. We love and cherish these artists because of what they give to us. We love them not because of who they are (for it is rare that we commoners should ever truly know the person behind the artist's mask) but because of how they make us feel. We love our artists, but we love them selfishly, and I think perhaps that is one of the things that drove Harper Lee crazy about her fame. People loved Harper Lee for what she gave the world in To Kill a Mockingbird. They did not love Harper Lee for who she was, and it was her aim to convince the world that they could never and would never truly know her. She never wanted to pretend otherwise, and there's refreshing honesty in that.
The lengths Harper Lee went to in order to protect her personal work and privacy are understandable and even admirable. I admire Lee because of her bravery in writing Mockingbird to a world that could have rejected it. I admire her courage in spending the rest of her life voraciously defending her rights to her book. I understood why she never published again, until Go Set a Watchman came out last year, but I'll never believe that she stopped writing. Writers write. It's what writers do. She could never have turned off that switch created inside of her to craft sentences and form thoughts, and then to let those things out in some way. She may have journaled, or she may have written a series of short stories or other novels. Maybe she wrote on napkins and threw them away every day. Or, you never know...she could have had a whole pile of papers she threw in a fire recently, anticipating her death. This is Harper Lee we're talking about. Whatever she wrote, I'm as equally expectant for the entirety of her work to be published posthumously as I am for her family to continue to keep her writings secret.
Regardless of what may or may not come next from the pen of Harper Lee, we will always have her Mockingbird. And access to that novel will explode in the next generations because, assuming copyright laws remain consistent, To Kill a Mockingbird is only about 40 years away from being considered part of the public domain.
Other than her One Great Novel, which truly changed many readers' lives, Harper Lee will go down in history as a standout female author in the 19th century for one reason: No one was the boss of her. Rather than being pushed around and pressured to do even one thing that she wasn't comfortable doing, she found her two feet and she stood firmly on them. Unwavering, Harper Lee spent her life being exactly where she wanted to be and doing exactly what she wanted to do. She had gotten more out of her writing life than she likely had ever wanted or even considered possible, and despite the protests of many, she was found mentally stable and competent until the end of her days. Harper Lee lived a long, good life.
And now, what's next? Now, we wait.