Harper Lee's Agent Dismisses Claims of Elder Abuse

by Caitlin White

Speaking up against claims of elder abuse, Harper Lee's agent Andrew Nurnberg said the author was in "full possession of her mental faculties." Nurnberg has been the To Kill a Mockingbird author's foreign rights agent for two years, and he was prompted to issue a statement after the Alabama Securities Commission closed its investigation into an anonymous complaint filed of elder abuse around Lee. Speculation has been buzzing about Lee's ability to give consent since she announced the release of To Kill a Mockingbird sequel Go Set a Watchman.

Nurnberg said that he was "surprised" at the anonymous complaint, noting that while she is "hard of hearing" and suffers from macular degeneration in her advanced age, these symptoms have "no bearing whatsoever" of her ability to speak her mind. And when it comes to the publication of Go Set a Watchman? Nurnberg said Lee was both "delighted" and "enthused."

Lee's agent was particularly quick to denounce claims that the author's living facility was anything less than stellar. He called the allegations that Lee (who he refers to by her nickname "Nelle") was not well cared for in her residential facility was "as shameful as it is sad."

Recently, the State of Alabama and the Alabama Securities Commission embarked on an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the decision to release a "long-lost" To Kill a Mockingbird sequel. An anonymous claim stated that Lee was unable to consent to the publication of her work and suggested that others around her, including her family lawyer, were releasing the book for financial gain. However, the investigation is now closed and the Alabama Securities Commission released this statement:

We made a determination that Ms. Lee, based on our interview with her, was aware that her book was going to be published. She wanted it published. She made it quite clear she did.

Nurnberg's full statement is below:

I was surprised to hear that someone had, anonymously, approached the authorities in Alabama to suggest that Harper Lee was being subjected to ‘elder abuse.’ Having spent quality time with her over the last couple of years, I can categorically state that she is in full possession of her mental faculties. We have had wonderful discussions ranging over many subjects from the state of contemporary politics to university life in England — she spent time as an undergraduate in Oxford — about literature, about writing and about specific authors: she does a fine imitation of C.S. Lewis, whose lectures she attended at the time. The fact that she is hard of hearing and suffers from some macular degeneration (entirely common for someone in their late 80s) has no bearing whatsoever on her quick wit or of speaking her mind on all manner of things. That she chose many years ago to lead a quiet life away from the world at large (the last time she spoke to the press was, I believe, in 1964) is her prerogative and should be respected.
She was surprised when the manuscript, which she had presumed long lost, was found last August and she is both delighted and enthused that it will now be published. Contrary to certain press reports, it was not ‘rejected’ at the time: Her putative editor — having read Go Set a Watchman — persuaded her to write Scout’s story through the eyes of a child, and the plan was to write a short novel to act as a bridge to Go Set a Watchman. This is clear from documentation at the time, which I have seen. This bridging book was never written but, as readers will find, it is not necessary to understand how Scout, her father, her extended family and the politics of segregation in the mid-'50s evolved.
Nelle could not be better cared for in the residential home where she lives. To suggest otherwise, anonymously and without any supportive evidence, is as shameful as it is sad. We should rather celebrate the fortuitous discovery of this long-lost novel and share the author’s joy at its imminent appearance.