Harper Lee, the elusive novelist who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that was written from a child’s-eye whose view reflected racial prejudices in a small Southern town recently died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 89, in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
Although I read a dozen articles about her death, they were about the same through the eyes of the Associated Press. The information that I found the most intriguing was in her biography.
One thing of interest was that her full name was Nelle Harper Lee. Her first name was her grandmother’s name spelled backwards. Lee dropped the Nelle because she didn’t want people to mispronounce it. Her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature and part owner of the local newspaper. For most of Lee’s life, her mother suffered from mental illness and rarely left the house. It was believed that she may have had bipolar disorder.
Although Lee was the youngest of four children, she was scrappy as any of her brothers. Not to mention she was brilliant.
One of her best friends, and who as authors today we’d call a critique partner, was Truman Capote, then known as Truman Persons. Lee often stepped up to serve as Truman’s protector. Truman, who shared few interest with boys his age, was picked on for being sensitive and for the fancy clothes he wore. While the two friends were very different, they both had difficult homes lives. Truman lived with his mother’s relative after largely being abandoned by his own parents.
“The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to– in private – surrounded by books and the people who loved her,” Michael Morrison, head of HarperCollins U.S. general books group, said.
To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, a little over a half a century ago, quickly became a best-seller, won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a memorable movie in 1962, with Gregory Peck winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus, plus the movie winning three Oscars. As the civil rights movement grew, the novel inspired a generation of young lawyers.
By 2015, its sales were reported to be more than 40 million worldwide, making it one of the most widely read American novels of the 20th century. When the Library of Congress did a survey in 1991 on books that have affected people’s lives, I was second only to the Bible.
Lee herself became more mysterious as her book became more famous. At first, she dutifully promoted her work. She spoke frequently to the press, wrote about herself and gave speeches..
But she began declining interviews in the late 1960s and, until late in her life, firmly avoided making any public comment at all about her novel or her career. Other than a few magazine pieces for Vogue and McCall’s in the 1960s and a review of a 19th-century Alabama history book in 1983, she published no other book until stunning the world in 2015 by permitting Go Set a Watchman to be released.
”Watchman” was written before “Mockingbird” but was set 20 years later, using the same location and many of the same characters. Readers and reviewers were disheartened to find an Atticus who seemed nothing like the hero of the earlier book. But despite unenthusiastic reviews and questions whether Lee was well enough to approve the publication, “Watchman” jumped to the top of best-seller lists within a day of its announcement and remained there for months.
Much of Lee’s story is the story of “Mockingbird,” and how she responded to it. She wasn’t a bragger or a drinker like many authors of her time. She was not a recluse or eccentric. By the accounts of friends and Monroeville townsfolk, she was a warm, vibrant and witty woman who enjoyed life, played golf, read voraciously and enjoyed plays and concerts. She just didn’t want to talk about it before an audience.
One of the most interesting things I found about her life really doesn’t differ a great deal from today’s readers. Although eventually To Kill a Mockingbird was released as an e-Book, she wasn’t all that pleased with the decision. In her words, like many of ours, she said, “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that ‘Mockingbird’ has survived this long ….”
As most students who grew up in my era, To Kill a Mockingbird was required school reading. However, I read mostly Granny’s True Confession mags she hid under the bed in the room I stayed in every weekend, plus of course, required class reading.
When I got older, the first real romance novel I read and it’ll always be my favorite is The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. After I got caught up on her older books, I turned to LaVyrle Spencer. There are so many to choose from but my favorite of all is The Hellion and later Hummingbird. For me, as I remember, The Hellion, was the first truly bad-boy hero I’d ever read. Just writing about it today makes me want to find my copy and read it again, but since I’ve got to get the second book in the Kasota Springs series finished for Kensington, I guess I’d best save the reading of The Hellion and The Flame and the Flower until it’s winter and I can curl up with hot tea in front of the fireplace and read.
My question to you all … what is the book you literally “cut your teeth on” when you began reading historical romances?
Being the first day of March, I can truly smell all the freshness of spring here in Texas. To one lucky winner I will give you an e-Book of the first book in the Kasota Springs series, The Troubled Texan.
This was a fun shot at Barnes and Nobles and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a picture. To Kill a Mockingbird, Filly Linda Broday’s Texas Mail Order Bride, and the Valentine’s short story collection from Prairie Rose Publications, Hearts and Spurs which features P&P Fillies Linda Broday, Tracy Garrett, Cheryl Pierson, Kathleen Rice Adams, Tanya Hansen, and Phyliss Miranda.