After forty years of fame, Harper Lee, author of the beloved American classic To Kill a Mockingbird, uttered her first words in public. At the Alabama Academy of Honor induction ceremony Monday, the 81-year-old writer said, “Well it’s better to be silent than to be a fool.”
Lee has spoken with only a handful of reporters since the 1960 publication of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. She briefly emerged earlier this year to present awards to winners of the To Kill a Mockingbird essay contest. In recent years, she has been portrayed on screen by Catherine Keener in Capote (2005) and Sandra Bullock in Infamous (2006).
Lee’s years of silence have maintained an aura of mystery around her. After selling 10,000,000 copies of a book denouncing racism, she declined to offer up any political opinions. The audience of fellow Alabamans that heard Lee speak that one droll sentence yesterday did not fail to grasp the significance of the moment: they met her witticism with laughter and a standing ovation.