Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Photo: © 2016 New York Times
Photo: © 2016 New York Times

Emory University acquires Harper Lee letters

Emory University announced Wednesday it has acquired letters and memorabilia of renowned novelist Harper Lee.

The items offer insight into Atticus Finch, the main character of Lee’s novels, “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Go Set a Watchman,” said an Emory professor who read the letters.

“This correspondence from Harper Lee, some of which show her at home taking care of her ailing father, provides wonderful insight into her life during the critical years when she wrote what would be her only two novels,” Joseph Crespino, who serves as Jimmy Carter Professor of History, said in a statement from Emory. “They provide a window into her life and her views during a period of tumultuous change in Southern political life. Read with other historical sources, they offer clues as to why the character of Atticus seems to diverge so sharply between the two novels.” 

The materials will be open to students and scholars in early April for research purposes in the reading room of Emory’s Rose Library and for instructional purposes in the classroom, an Emory spokeswoman said. 

Emory said four of the six letters are from several years before Lee published “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1960 and two are from the year following publication. The novel sold more than 40 million copies, was a Pulitzer Prize winner and is recognized as one of the best works of the 20th century. Many fans of “To Kill a Mockingbird” were surprised by differences in Finch’s views on race in “Go Set a Watchman,” which was written decades ago but not published until 2015.

Lee, who rarely gave interviews and valued her privacy, died in 2016.

The Harper Lee collection at Emory includes a 1947 University of Alabama yearbook, “The Corolla,” which features a photo and article about Lee, who was editor of the Rammer-Jammer, the campus humor magazine. Photo by Ann Borden/Emory University.

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