- Associated Press - Friday, April 29, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - The publisher of a book about Harper Lee is insisting that the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” cooperated with the project.

Earlier this week, Penguin Press announced it had acquired “The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee,” a memoir by former Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills. The publisher said the book was written with “direct access” to Lee, who has rarely talked to the press over the past half century. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” released in 1960, was her only novel.

Lee, who turned 85 on Thursday, then issued a statement through the law firm Barnett, Bugg, Lee & Carter in Monroeville, Ala., where she is based. The statement said she had not “authorized such a book” or “willingly participated.”

But on Friday, Penguin released a letter from Mills to the author’s sister, Alice Lee, dated March 20, 2011.

“This is to confirm, should anyone want such a confirmation, that you and Nelle (Harper Lee) cooperated with me and, I would add, were invaluable guides in the effort to learn about your remarkable lives, past and present, in the context of your friendships and family, your work, your recollections and personal reflections, your ancestors and the history of this area,” the letter reads.

“By signing below, you confirm this participation and cooperation, and that I moved into the house next door to yours only after I had the blessing of both of you.”

The letter is signed by Alice Lee. Mills also issued a statement Friday through Penguin that “Harper Lee, known as Nelle to many of her friends, and her sister, Alice Lee, were wonderfully generous with their time and insights over the years as I researched my book.”

The Monroeville law firm, reached on the phone Friday by The Associated Press, said it would have no further comment. Adding to the confusion: The Lee in Barnett, Bugg, Lee & Carter is Alice Lee.

Penguin hasn’t set a release date for the book.

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