“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Today the world lost a literary great. One of the great American novelists, Harper Lee has died at the age of 89. Lee rose to literary fame in 1960 with the publication of one of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird. The book would win her the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and be adapted to the big screen with Gregory Peck as the great Atticus Finch. Lee was never comfortable with the fame that came with her literary masterpiece, and for more than 55 years, it remained her only published work. In 2015, Go Set the Watchman was published, much to the dismay of diehard Lee fans. The novel was meant to be a sequal to TKAM, and featured Scout as an adult, and what happens when the illusions of childhood are stripped away. (I’ve written about it here https://ascampabroad.com/2015/07/21/the-scamp-sets-a-watchman/)
Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama in 1926, and spent most of her life guarding her privacy. It is clear that the novel served as the backdrop for her novel, and that she was deeply affected by her life there. Although she moved to New York in 1949, she always remained a small town Alabama girl. She had a deep and powerful friendship with another great American author, Truman Capote. He served as the model for her character Dill, and she served as an assistant of sorts while he researched and wrote In Cold Blood. She all but disappeared from the spotlight until President Bush honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. He called her novel a gift to the world.
He was not wrong.
Harper Lee has always been one of my favorite authors. To Kill A Mockingbird is a book I read over and over, and every time I do, I learn something new about myself, and about the characters I love so much. While I no longer have the naive hero worship of Atticus Finch that I did when I was younger, I am now better equipped to appreciate what Lee did with her characters, and with the story that she was trying to get across. Her death is a huge loss for the literary world, but her novels will continue to make people think, make people talk to one another, and hopefully, make people have a greater appreciation for what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. She may not have really believed in her ability, and the good she did, but millions of people all over the world would tell her otherwise.
“People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.”
― Harper Lee