Editor’s Note, April 29, 2016: Vine exclusively shared Harper Lee’s unsigned feature with Smithsonian.com. Read it here.
It was big news last summer when Go define a keeper, a “lost” novel by beloved author Harper Lee, has been published. This is because for decades the author of Kill a mockingbird claimed she would no longer be posting, and her death in February seemed to make it a certainty. But recently Charles Shields found another overlooked piece of writing while updating his bio Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee.
According to Dalya Alberge at Guardian, Shields found an unsigned Lee feature article published in the March 1960 issue of the Vine, a magazine for FBI employees. The story tells of Kansas Bureau of Investigation Agent Alvin Dewey, who solved the murders of the Clutter family, which Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote immortalized in his book, In cold blood.
Shields tracked down the article after scouring Kansas newspapers during the time Lee spent helping Capote research his book. He discovered a column in the Telegram from the garden city mentioning that Lee was publishing an article about Dewey in the Vine, so he contacted the Vine desks.
“The editor was very excited,” he said Jill Vejnoska from Atlanta Newspaper Incorporation. She said, ‘It’s been a rumor for years that we’ve already run something by Harper Lee. “”
After receiving a copy of the article, Shields found the article to be well written, but speculated that it likely had a deeper purpose for Lee and Capote, who were still researching the Clutter murders in Kansas. “It was supposed to be popular with people on the pitch, especially with Alvin Dewey,” Shields told Vejnoska. “They were sticking stakes in the ground, clearly saying ‘This is our territory’.”
The reason the play didn’t have a signature, Shields believes, is because Lee didn’t want to step on Capote’s toes. “Harper Lee was so protective of Truman, the Clutter case was his job,” says Shields. “She didn’t want to steal it.”
The article has not yet been made public, but it may be soon. “Usually we keep the Vine confidential to our members, ”Nancy Savage, executive director of the Virginia-based Society of Former FBI Special Agents, told Vejnoska. “But we’re trying to find something where we could put [Lee’s article] on our public website.