Alabama Authors – Harper Lee
“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.”
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Nelle Harper Lee only published one book, but what a book it was! The Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill a Mockingbird has more than 30 million copies in print and was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a Library Journal poll.
Lee didn’t expect much from her novel. In fact, she said as much in a 1964 interview with Newquist.
“I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”
A quick and merciful death. We’re sure lucky that didn’t happen!
The central character of the story, Scout, is a tomboyish figure rather like Lee herself. Scout, with her brother Jem and their friend Dill (modeled after boyhood friend, Truman Capote), become fascinated with the mysterious town character, Boo Radley and attempt to lure him out of his seclusion.
More than a coming-of-age tale, To Kill a Mockingbird explores racial prejudice in the South. Atticus Finch, the attorney father of Scout and Jem goes against social mores and alienates a good portion of his neighbors when he defends a black man who was charged with raping a white woman.
A year after publication, the book won the Pulitzer Prize. Horton Foote went to work on a screenplay and the film was released in 1962. To Kill a Mockingbird received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck.
Harper Lee now lives in an assisted-living facility, partially blind and deaf. She once told a close friend why she never wrote another book. “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”
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