The PeopleAlchemist Edit: #theWomanAlchemist #MonthlyFeature #womanofthemonth – Harper Lee
Hello, and welcome back to the #TheWomanAlchemist monthly feature.
This month I’d like to celebrate the birthday of Harper Lee, an American writer for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).
HARPER LEE LIFE IN SHORT
Harper Lee was born on 28 April 1926 in Alabama and died on 19 February 2016 in Monroeville, Alabama.
Her father was a lawyer who inspired the hero of her novel with his excellent citizenship and warmheartedness.
She left Alabama in 1949 for New York City, where she worked in a bookstore and then for an airline while writing in her free time. After publishing a few long stories, she found an agent who became a lifelong friend. Shortly after, she received financial support from friends, the equivalent of one year’s wages, so she could write full-time.
Lee converted a series of short stories with the help of an editor into To Kill a Mockingbird.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD – STORYLINE
The storyline of To Kill a Mockingbird is roughly based on Lee’s observations of her neighbourhood, including an event near Monroeville in 1936 when she was 10 – the unsuccessful youthful defence of two African American men convicted of murder. The 1931 landmark Scottsboro Boys interracial rape case and its unsuccessful defence by her father may have also helped to shape Lee’s social conscience.
The book confronts the irrationality of adults and their attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s through the eyes of a young girl, Jean Louise (“Scout”) Finch, the daughter of white lawyer Atticus Finch, and from time to time, from her retrospective adult voice.
Scout and her brother learn from their father the principles of racial justice and open-mindedness; Finch mounted an unpopular defence of a Black man falsely accused of raping a white girl. This helped them to develop the courage and the strength to follow their convictions.
Another character in Mockingbird is widely based on Lee’s childhood friend and next-door neighbour, Truman Capote.
Lee accompanied Capote to Kansas as his so-called assistant; he was covering the murders of the Clutter family for The New Yorker. She spent months with him interviewing people, taking notes, sharing her impressions, and later returned to Kansas for the trial of the accused. Capore used her contributions later in the composition of In Cold Blood.
To Kill a Mockingbird was a fantastic success; it has sold over 40 million copies worldwide. However, the book was criticised for its tendency to sermonise and equally praised for its insight and stylistic effectiveness.
It became a film in 1962 and a Broadway play in 2018.
After its phenomenal success, some suspected that Capote was the author. However, a 1959 letter from Capote stated that he had read and liked the book draft that Lee had shown him, and this rumour was finally proven wrong in 2006.
From the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird until she died in 2016, Lee made almost no interviews or public appearances and published nothing further until 2015.
The Long Goodbye— a follow-up novel she started, was filed away unfinished.
She wrote a few short essays devoted to Alabama history, including “Romance and High Adventure” (1983).
Go Set a Watchman, a story written in the 1950s before Mockingbird, was a sequel featuring Scout as an adult returning to her childhood home in Alabama to visit her father, was released in 2015.
Some of the Accolades
1961 – Pulitzer Prize
2007 – Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian award in the United States for “especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours”.
2010 – National Medal of Arts – for “outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts.
Sometimes one book is more than enough …
Happy Birthday Harper Lee, and thank you x
A few of the previous #TheWomanAlchemist blogs celebrating women writers:
- Virginia Woolf
- Jane Austen
- Agatha Christie
- Daphne Du Maurier
- Mary Wollstonecraft
- Pam Grout
- Simone de Beauvoir