Some people create history with a single act of theirs. And some with a single book. Harper Lee was one of the latter. A humble tribute to her.
The only author to win a Pulitzer Prize for her first and only novel- ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, she was named after her grandmother Ellen (she was named ‘Nelle’ –Ellen spelled backwards). Her first novel that secured her place among the literary stalwarts – ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ was loosely based on her own life and the kind of goings-on she saw in her neighborhood. Her father, a lawyer had once defended two black men accused of murdering a white storekeeper. Both clients, father and son, were hanged. That apparently was a watershed moment in Lee’s life. The #impact of that incident and its gravity pressed on her young mind, turning the tomboy in her into a deep thinker. And that’s how she gave us TKAM.
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.
These words of Atticus Finch in TKAM never fail to strike a chord within me. True, true and a hundred times true. To stand up for something you believe in. When there is no one on your side but you. That’s courage. You go ahead anyway. That is it.
She had started writing the novel as a series of anecdotes. Though the piece was brilliant, her first draft was not accepted by the publisher. Eventually this first draft or ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was fine-tuned to ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, which went on to create records.
“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.”
Every author’s fear and every author’s dream. Both quite extreme.
Harper Lee’s friendship with her childhood friend and neighbor Truman Capote was a well-known fact what with her assisting him in an article that eventually turned into his best-selling book ‘In Cold Blood’. The character Dill in TKAM was inspired by Capote. On the other hand, Lee has found her way into many screenplays and novels by Capote.
After her first, there were novels she had started working on like ‘The Long Goodbye’ and one about an Alabama serial murderer, but they remained unfinished. The release of ‘Go Set a Watchman’, essentially a prequel to TKAM in 2015 was brought about by Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter who while re-examining her safe deposit box, found the old manuscript for GSAW. Carter then sent the manuscript for publication and almost years later, Harper Collins came out with it in 2016.
Leading a private life, Lee died on 19 February, 2016 at the age of 89 in Alabama, where she was born and raised. One incident. One book. And yet, the #impact was worth a hundred. Hats off to her! Sometimes I wish the passing away of authors was given a tad more coverage on the tabloid and media.
“Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”