The official recipient of this year’s Harper Lee Award was Fannie Flagg, a TV personality (she co-hosted Candid Camera with Alan Funt and was a regular on the Match Game) who began writing fiction in the 80s. She described an accidental encounter she had with Lee.
In 1985 Flagg was living in a “tragic” New York apartment on the Upper West Side and trying to write a novel. It was not going well.
She was running out of money and thought she’d have to go back to working in television. Discouraged, she decided to pack it in. That same day, she was walking to a chiropractor on West 85th Street when a crazy man walked right up to her and said, “You’re ugly.” Stumbling into the chiropractor’s office, she complained of her treatment to the receptionist, saying, “I’m from Alabama, where we have better manners.” The receptionist, a young man named Jay Sawyer, said, “I’m from Alabama too.” He told Flagg he had an extra ticket to see Eudora Welty at the 92nd Street Y the following week and invited her to use it.
After the event, Sawyer was standing on the street with a woman Flagg took to be an aunt. He said, “This is my friend from Monroeville, Nelle Harper Lee.” As she told the story 27 years later, Flagg said, “I knew not to jump.” But, “almost fainting,” she managed to muster a “How do you do?” She was invited to join them for drinks, and “I got to know the most intelligent woman I have ever met in my life.” Flagg told Lee what she was working on, to which the novelist replied, “Sounds rather interesting. Keep trying.”