Harriet the Spy was a YA fiction inspiration who possessed all of the ethics of a TMZ reporter. A young Upper East Side miscreant, Harriet's curiosity and ambition leads her to spy on her friends, family and neighbors, recording copious notes about their activities in her ever-present notebooks. In this way, Harriet is something of an antihero. She's also an early example of realism in children's literature.
In her biography, Sometimes You Have To Lie, Harriet the Spy author Louise Fitzhugh's life proves to be just as enthralling as her legendary protagonist. Growing up in an affluent family in the segregated South, Fitzhugh fled conservative Tennessee to live a beatnik's life in Greenwich Village. Though she dabbled in dating dudes here and there, ultimately she declared,"I can't abide a male human being in my bed," and was an out and proud '50s lesbian. As much as she cherished her lovers, she also cherished her friends and often palled around New York with the likes of Maurice Sendak and Lorraine Hansberry. Fitzhugh was a dyed-in-the-wool non-conformist. She challenged the status quo in both her writing and her life, and was an ally in issues regarding social justice and racial equality. She convinced her publisher to pause production on her novel Nobody's Family Is Going to Change after it had gone to press in order to include a scene memorializing Clifford Glover and Claude Reese, two Black children murdered by police in New York.
Fitzhugh's life was cut short by an aneurysm at age 46. Though she was an out lesbian, her obituary simply claimed she "never married," an omission some believed was designed to protect the "commercial viability" of her estate. To paraphrase Harriet's nanny, Ole Golly, "It's okay to lie, as long as you're true to yourself."