Harper Lee 1926-2016

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As anyone who has read my blog before will know Harper Lee is one of my greatest idols. That is probably why it has taken me more than a month after her passing to write my own tribute to her. It is difficult to write about someone who lets face it, would have written it much better herself but anyway here goes. On the 19th of February last the world lost a true legend. Nelle Harper Lee died at the age of 89. She was born in Monroeville, Alabama in 1926. She moved to New York in the 1950’s and began working as a ticket agent for a local airline. As well as working other jobs, Lee always pursued her passion for writing. She never gave up on her dream of becoming a writer. Although she had moved from Alabama, the little town of Monroeville and the people of her childhood never really left her.

The first manuscript she submitted to a publisher was called “Go Set a Watchman“.  It was set in the fictional town of Maycomb, a town not unlike the one where Lee herself grew up. After years of rewriting and editing the manuscript it finally evolved into her first novel “To Kill A Mockingbird.” The book was published in 1960 to rave reviews. In 1961 Lee was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the novel was also adapted into a major motion picture staring Gregory Peck. Mockingbird is the story of a black man called Tom Robinson who is accused of raping a white woman in a small town in Alabama in the 1930’s. Continue reading

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Harper Lee’s Lost Novel

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Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama on April 28th 1926. She is the youngest of four children. Her father was a lawyer and editor of a newspaper while her mother stayed at home with the children. Finch was her mother’s maiden name and the name she would go on to use for her fictional family in To Kill a Mockingbird. She went to the University of Alabama to study law but never finished the degree. In 1956 Lee moved to New York City and worked as an airline reservation agent. She wrote fiction in her spare time. She became friends with Joy and Michael Brown. They were fellow southerners who she was introduced to by her childhood friend and fellow writer Truman Capote. Capote was friendly with the Brown’s and asked them to look out for Lee while she was in the city. They read many of her stories and thought she should pursue writing as a profession. In the Christmas of 1949 Joy and Michael gave Lee an extraordinary gift. They gave her the money that allowed her to quit her job for one year and become a full-time writer. They believed wholeheartedly that Lee was born to write and so they didn’t question giving her the money. She later wrote about receiving this gift from the Brown’s and what their faith in her really meant.

“There was an envelope on the tree addressed to me, I opened it and read: You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas…… Our faith in you is really all I heard them say, I would do my best not to fail them.” Harper Lee

Lee’s first manuscript entitled “Atticus” transformed during this time into “Go Set a Watchman”. Lee took it to a publisher to see if they would be interested in publishing it. They encouraged her to go further back into the story of these characters and tell it from the beginning. Her publisher later said that it was more like a collection of short stories than a novel. She said there were dangling threads of plot but not a whole story and it’s a testament to how impressed they were by Lee herself that they signed a contract there and then. For two more years Lee worked on the novel. In an article for the New York Times Lee describes this time as a long and hopeless period of writing the book over and over again. The final creation was called “To Kill A Mockingbird.” It was eventually published in 1961.  Without this amazing act of friendship and the insight of her editor it may never have been possible. Continue reading