“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah 6:8Chances are, if you ask ten people if they have heard of the classic To Kill A Mockingbird, more than likely, all ten will have some knowledge of the Pulitzer Prize winning-best seller written by Harper Lee. As a young teen who loved to read, I was completely captivated with the compelling novel of racial prejudice in a small Southern city! With the highly anticipated release of Lee’s new book, “Go Set a Watchman“, I recently spent a few hours in Monroeville, Alabama, Lee’s hometown and the setting of one of the world’s best loved novels! Katy and I so enjoyed our visit to the Old Courthouse Museum, where the setting of To Kill A Mockingbird really came to life and piqued my interest once again for Lee’s writings. Go Set A Watchman is set to hit bookstores on July 14! I hope you will come along as we tour the literary capital of Alabama, my home state!
“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for”
Judge Taylor, To Kill a Mockingbird
The Monroe County Courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama was completed in 1904 and now houses the Old Courthouse Museum. Harper Lee and her book, To Kill a Mockingbird, brought instant fame to her small Alabama town of Monroeville. Even though the movie was not filmed in Monroeville, fans of the classic novel come to see the courthouse because it is the most tangible connection to the book’s fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama! The set designer came to Monroeville to photograph the court room before recreating it on a Hollywood sound stage! Restored to its 1930’s appearance, the courtroom is the model for Lee’s fictional courtroom settings in To Kill a Mockingbird. The movie starred Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. The film won three academy awards, including Best Actor for Peck, and was nominated for eight, including Best Picture. The film is widely considered to be one of the greatest ever made. The American Film Institute named Atticus Finch the greatest movie hero of the 20th century! In 1963, county offices moved to a new building on the square, and the community started looking at preserving the old courthouse with the idea of starting a museum! A small museum opened in 1968 with a full time museum opening in 1991. Renovation of the building also began in 1991 at a cost of $2.5 million. The museum houses two permanent exhibits: Truman Capote: A Childhood in Monroeville, and Harper Lee: In Her Own Words. Harper Lee was born April 28, 1926 in Monroeville. As a child, she was an unruly tomboy. She was bored with school. The character of Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird would have liked her! In high school, Lee was fortunate to have a gifted English teacher who introduced her to the rigors of writing well.
Lee loved nineteenth century British authors best, and once said that her ambition was to become “the Jane Austen of south Alabama.” “From childhood on, I did sit in the courtroom watching my father argue cases and talk to juries” (from a 1962 interview). He once defended two black men accused of murdering a white storekeeper. Both clients, a father and son, were hanged. She attended the University of Alabama where she was editor of Rammer Jammer, a quarterly humor magazine on campus. She entered law school but loathed it and decided to pursue a writing career in New York! She spent eight years working odd jobs before she finally showed a manuscript to an editor at J.B. Lippincott. At this point, it still resembled a string of stories more than the novel that Lee had intended. She spent two and a half years rewriting. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 to highly favorable reviews and quickly climbed the bestseller lists, where it remained for 88 weeks. In 1961, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize. The book has sold over thirty million copies in eighteen languages. Lee was totally unprepared for the amount of personal attention associated with writing a best-seller. She has led a quiet and guardedly private life. As Sheriff Tate says of Boo Radley, “draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight-to me, that’s a sin.” So it would be with Harper Lee. From her, To Kill a Mockingbird is gift enough. One of Lee’s closest childhood friends was another writer-to-be, Truman Capote, who came to live with relatives next door to the Lee’s! It is believed that the character of Dill is based on Capote. In the decades since Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, her novel has been shadowed by a persistent rumor. The speculation has been that Lee’s long time friend Truman Capote either wrote or heavily edited the book. A letter that Capote wrote his aunt dated July 9, 1959 and made public when placed on display in the Monroe County Museum clearly debunks the idea! Nelle Harper Lee never married and has continued to live in Monroeville, Alabama. In 1999, To Kill a Mockingbird was voted best novel of the century by the Library Journal. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
In February of this year, 55 years after her novel To Kill a Mockingbird was published, it was announced that the 88 year-old (now 89) would publish her second novel, Go Set a Watchman. The book features her memorable character Scout as an adult and was written prior to the famous To Kill a Mockingbird! When we left, we drove two blocks down to the site where Lee and Capote were neighbors. The lot that once held Lee’s home is now “Mel’s Dairy Dream”, a local burger joint. When we arrived and hopped out to take pictures, a local was curious as to why we were taking pictures–he had no idea the literary history of the ground he was standing on! It was neat to talk to him about the area and tell him why we were there! The stone fence, that separated the Lee home and the home that Capote lived in as a child, is all that remains! Two literary giants lived next to each other as children in the small Southern town of Monroeville, Alabama. It is quite an amazing story!
In April 1963 in my hometown, our local theater rolled out the red carpet for the two young stars of To Kill a Mockingbird. The theater hosted a premier of the film based on the novel written by Alabama novelist Harper Lee. Gadsden native Phillip Alford, who played the role of “Jem” and Mary Badham, who played the role of “Scout” we’re given keys to the city. Exactly 45 years later, the two actors returned to Gadsden for a screening of the movie!
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience”
Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird
Linking with Pieced Pastimes, Silver Pennies, Life on Lakeshore Drive, Thoughts From Alice, Mod Vintage Life, Coastal Charm, My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia, The Dedicated House, Dwellings-Heart of Your Home, Savvy Southern Style, Ivy and Elephants, French Country Cottage, From My Front Porch To Yours, Stone Gable, Confessions of a Plate Addict, Worthing Court, Between Naps on the Porch, Cedar Hill Farmhouse, A Stroll Thru Life, The Style Sisters, The Charm of Home, The Winthrop Chronicles, Cornerstone Confessions, A Delightsome Life, Imparting Grace, Posed Perfection, Katherines Corner, My Romantic Home, Chic On A Shoestring Decorating, Rooted In Thyme, Share Your Cup, TheEnchanting Rose, Alabama Women Bloggers, 21 Rosemary Lane, Northern Nesting, Oh My Heartsie Girl, Cozy Little House, Rattlebridge Farm, The Turquoise Home, My Flagstaff Home, In The New House, Natasha in Oz, Vintage Refined