Anybody who really knows me knows that "To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book of all time!
So it with great pleasure and honor that I am pleased to announce our first ever FILM FESTIVAL to be held Sunday, January 16, 2011 as the Grand Finale of our 11th Anniversary Girlfriend Weekend Author Extravaganza! Yes, add to your calendar our 50th Anniversary of "To Kill a Mockingbird' Film Festival, 2:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. at the Jefferson Tourism and Convention Center. As I type this NEW announcement, I catch my breath, as to do this event is the greatest thing I have ever done bar none. I have tears in my eyes of the joy I have in bringing this event to you! Books take you, indeed, magical places! I never dreamed in a million years I would be bringing this all to you! You all are in for an experience of a lifetime this Girlfriend Weekend! My hope and dream is that everybody will know that this event marks the event of my lifetime!
Author, Kerry Madden of Upclose: Harper Lee
Up Close: Harper Lee
When her reply came, it was short and succinct. She did not believe in biographies for those still living. She wrote, “I may be old but I’m still breathing." She closed the note wishing me the best whether I pursued the project or not. It was disappointing but certainly not unexpected. She hasn’t granted an interview to discuss her work since 1964 and even turned down Oprah. I thanked her and decided to continue with the book anyway. Harper Lee’s was a story I longed to write. For more on her story go to http://www.kerrymadden.com/
Author and Independent Film and Television Writer/Producer,Mary Murphy of "Scout, Atticus, and Boo"!
Reading To Kill a Mockingbird is something millions of us have in common. In a documentary and accompanying book, Mary McDonagh Murphy explores the novel’s power, influence and popularity. With reflections from Anna Quindlen, Tom Brokaw, James McBride, James Patterson, Wally Lamb, Oprah Winfrey and more, the documentary and the book chronicle the many ways the novel has shaped lives and careers. Harper Lee has not given an interview since 1964, but Murphy’s reporting, research and rare interviews with the author’s sister and friends add new details and photos to the remarkable story of an astonishing phenomenon. Read the Book: Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird or see the documentary film Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird. For more on Mary Murphy go to http://www.marymurphy.net/
The First United Methodist Church High School and Junior High Youth Groups will be running a concession stand with all proceeds going to their NEW youth building and The First United Methodist Church will be hosting a Chili Supper at the convention center with their proceeds to go to their mission and outreach programs, specifically their Food Bank Program!
Last, (see at bottom of letter), I would like to post a feature that was written by author, Mark Childress, photo above), that was written originally for Southern Living Magazine and being reprinted with his permission. This is story that I reread as often as I reread "To Kill a Mockingbird, a feature I hold dear to heart. Mark will be also attending our book festival to promote his latest book, "Georgia Bottoms". He grew up in Monroeville, Alabama and is also featured in the documentary "Hey Boo!". It is with great pleasure that I share his story and announce this big event!
Tickets for Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guy Book Club members are $25.00. Non-members, $75. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets or call 903-665-7520.
Tiara Wearing, Beauty and the Book sharing,
Kathy L. Patrick
Founder of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs
Beauty and the Book
608 North Polk Street
Jefferson, Texas 75657
Looking for Harper Lee
With a sad smile I close the cover of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” a book I hold close to my heart. Every year or so I read it again, to see if it’s as good as I remember, and to remind myself why I wanted to become a writer. This is the book that did it for me, the first grown-up book I ever read, the one that has stayed with me longest.
I’ll never forget where I was that first time: on Miss Wanda Biggs’ front porch in Monroeville, Alabama, my hometown, a few doors down from the house where Nelle Harper Lee grew up. It was my particular luck to enter the world of Jean Louise Finch (better known as Scout), her brother Jem, father Atticus, the peculiar boy Dill from next door, and all the good and bad people of Maycomb, Alabama, while I reclined in a porch swing on the street where it all happened.
My family had moved away from Monroeville by that time, but we came back in the summers to visit Miss Wanda and Mister Fred and their dog Whizzy. The Biggses lived in a big old rambly house with rooms on both sides of a long dogtrot hallway, and a deep, shady porch on the front.
Over supper, I heard the grownups talking about Nelle Harper Lee, who was by far the biggest celebrity Monroeville had ever produced. Her book spent eighty weeks on bestseller lists, won the Pulitzer Prize, and went on to become a first-rate Hollywood movie, which led to the biggest event in the history of Monroeville: the day Gregory Peck came to town.
Everyone thought Miss Nelle’s success was wonderful, but some in town were already pondering her well-known tendency toward reclusiveness. Nothing provokes the sociable Southerner like someone who wants to be left alone, and from the time of her enormous success Harper Lee had shown absolutely no interest in acting like a celebrity. "These southern people are southern people," she said in 1961, "and if they know you are working at home, they think nothing of walking in for coffee."
I asked Miss Wanda if she had a copy of the book I could read. She led me gravely to the glass-fronted case in the hall and handed over her copy of J.B. Lippincott’s first 1960 edition, inscribed in an open, ladylike hand: “To Wanda, love, Nelle.”
Tucked in the front cover was a black-and-white snapshot of Miss Wanda cheek-to-cheek with Gregory Peck at the LaSalle Hotel on Monroeville’s courthouse square. She asked me to take special care with the book, as it would be worth a lot of money someday.
I stretched out on the swing, my bare feet on the chain, rocking sideways, and read the opening sentence: “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”
Some hours later, I stumbled out of the swing, the closing lines ringing in my head: “He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”
In those hours, I was transformed. Books had always been magical objects to me, but distant from my own experience. Authors were invisible wizards who swept me off to far places to work their magic on me. “To Kill A Mockingbird” was fiction, but it was real. It came from this place where I sat. It was written by a lady my parents actually knew, a lady who had signed her name in this book I held in my hands. It told a story about a childhood lived on this very street, in these houses, in these side-yards, in the schoolyard back yonder.
And not just a story -- the most wonderful story I’d ever read. Certainly it seemed so to me at the time, and I’m not sure that I’ve changed my mind. The book moved me as no book had ever done. It made me want to learn how to make that kind of magic, to tell that kind of truth.
Thirty-seven years after its publication, the book moves me still. Many Americans consider it their favorite novel -- a certified classic, seventeen million copies in print, translated into forty languages, assigned reading in nearly every high school in our land. What no one could have predicted was that “To Kill A Mockingbird” would become for the South of the 1960s what “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was to the North, a hundred years earlier: a novel to change the minds and arouse the consciences of a whole country. I believe that Harper Lee’s charming story was in fact a work of subversive literature, a popular book that did more to change white Southern attitudes about issues of race than any other work of art in this century.
HOW DID the author work this miracle? She begins gracefully, easily, with that ominous glancing reference to Jem’s broken arm, a quick geneaology of the Finch family and a tour of Maycomb, “a tired old town when I first knew it.” Then we’re out in the yard with Scout and Jem and Dill, telling spooky stories about the house where Boo Radley lives.
Scout is the perfect narrator, a funny little girl with a tart sense of injustice, as sublimely pure and smart-mouthed an innocent as any since Huckleberry Finn. Boo Radley is the boogeyman up the street, the recluse who never leaves his creepy shabby house, the man who wants only to be left alone.
Atticus Finch, widower attorney, treats his children with “courteous detachment.” He is raising them with the help of Calpurnia, “our cook,” actually the mother figure in the household, a source of wisdom and strength. Scout gives us a lovely, affectionate picture of growing up in the vanished world of smalltown Alabama in the 1930s, where everyone seems loving and lovable, eccentric but good-hearted, poor but happy. Life feels almost painfully sweet.
Only after the author has meticulously built this fond portrait does she proceed to undermine it, revealing the rottenness at the core of all that polite gentility. Atticus takes a case that he knows will mean trouble. A black man called Tom Robinson is accused of raping and beating a white girl, Mayella Ewell. Normally this would be an open-and-shut case, but Tom is a “good Negro,” and Mayella comes, literally, from trash -- the Ewells live in a shack beside the town dump.
The white people of Maycomb are roused from their summertime torpor to side against Atticus, simply because he dares to defend a black man against the charges of a white girl. The facts of the case do not matter. Trapped in the elaborate system of oppression they have helped to construct, the people of Maycomb have no choice: they must side with white against black, or risk destroying the illusion that supports their way of life.
The trial of Tom Robinson strikes Maycomb like a bolt of lightning, revealing layers of hidden bigotry along with glimmers of occasional humanity. In the bravura courtroom scene at the heart of the novel, Atticus proves Tom’s innocence beyond doubt. In the end, though, the jury must find him guilty, because the need to preserve the whites-only system is stronger than any notion of justice.
Jem says he’s “got it all figured out. There’s four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes.”
Scout contradicts him: “Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
Then Jem asks the unanswerable question: “If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think...I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time...it’s because he (ital) wants (end ital) to stay inside.”
A few weeks later, Tom Robinson is shot to death trying to escape from prison.
Atticus is the rod the townspeople have set up to attract the lightning. He defended the man he was appointed to defend, and for this crime his children are assaulted on their way home from a Halloween pageant.
Boo Radley comes out of his house to save the children’s lives, but not before Jem has his arm “badly broken at the elbow.”
That’s the story, simple enough on its surface. No one in the story is completely good, and no one wholly evil -- except perhaps Bob Ewell, father of Mayella, who winds up under an oak tree with “a kitchen knife stuck up under his ribs.” The sheriff pronounces justice served: “There’s a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it’s dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch.”
Although “To Kill A Mockingbird” was a huge and immediate hit, the author’s combination of darkness and light was too strong for some critics of the time. As Harding Lemay wrote in the New York Herald Tribune: “The two themes Miss Lee interweaves throughout the novel emerge as enemies of each other. The charm and wistful humor of the childhood recollections do not foreshadow the deeper, harsher note which pervades the later pages of the book.... The two worlds remain solitary in spite of Miss Lee's grace of writing and honorable decency of intent."
Of course with hindsight we see that it is precisely the contrast of these “solitary” worlds, the polite fiction of a happily segregated society posed against the “deeper, harsher” truth of racial oppression, that gives the novel its immense power. Subversives do their work from within the society they are trying to topple. The world Harper Lee wrote about was distant enough in time, in the 1960s, to make her revelations acceptable to a wide Southern audience. Writing from a position of sympathy with the white society, she exposed the great lie beneath its surface. Her indictment was all the more devastating because it came from within.
HARPER LEE will celebrate her seventy-first birthday on April 28, 1997. People are sometimes surprised to learn that she is alive and well, still dividing her time between Monroeville and an apartment on the upper East Side of New York City, still invisible to the public. From the outside, her life seems to have been rather peaceful.
The youngest of three children born to A.C. and Francis Lee, she grew up in Depression Monroeville and followed her attorney father’s footsteps as far as law school at the University of Alabama, though she never practiced law. (Her sister Alice practiced with Mr. A.C. Lee until his death, and then on her own.) Nelle Lee spent the 1950s in New York, working for Eastern Airlines and honing a collection of short stories. At the suggestion of a literary agent she expanded one of these stories into “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
Monroeville has always taken it for granted that events in the novel are based on the author’s life. Miss Wanda pointed out for me the house where the real-life Boo Radley lived, and the stump of the tree where he hid his little trinkets for Scout and Jem -- as if they were real children, not fictional characters. Certainly the character of Dill was based on the young Truman Capote, who spent childhood summers in Monroeville and remained fast friends with Nelle Lee until his death.
After the astounding success of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Harper Lee retreated into a public silence that has endured all these years. She is one of America’s great literary recluses, refusing all interviews, resisting all honors, declining all approaches, as invisible to her fans as Boo Radley was to the people of Maycomb. Aside from the novel, and a couple of essays on love and Christmas she wrote for women’s magazines in the early 1960s, Harper Lee has never published another word. Like Boo, she seems to want only to be left alone.
Perhaps Scout was speaking for the author when she says “I could stand anything but a bunch of people looking at me.”
Nelle Lee spent years helping Capote research the Kansas murders that became his nonfiction novel “In Cold Blood,” which he dedicated to her. As far as I know, she has placed herself in the public eye only once in all the years since, in 19xx when she accepted an honorary degree from the University of Alabama. From all accounts she was generous and good-humored that day, spoke brief thanks from the podium, and went back to her privacy.
I wish I’d been there. Since that day in Miss Wanda’s swing, I have cherished an unrealistic ambition to meet Harper Lee, to thank her for writing that marvelous book. For a while, when I was a reporter for newspapers (and this magazine), I joined the crowd of people trying to break through her wall of silence. I learned that a friend of a friend was in touch with her, and wrote what I thought was a very nice letter, asking if she’d grant me a few minutes on the phone, or submit to an interview in writing. Weeks later my letter came back with “Hell No” printed in green ink across the top.
Hope does continue to spring, however. Some years later I wrote a novel of my own, and mailed a copy to Miss Alice Lee, Nelle’s older sister. Miss Alice had done some legal work for my father when we lived in Monroeville. Shamelessly I traded on that connection. I tried to explain in my letter just how much “To Kill A Mockingbird” meant to me, how it had inspired me to write my own book.
One day a white envelope landed in my mailbox, addressed in the same clear, feminine hand I remembered from the autographed copy at Miss Wanda’s house. A four-page handwritten letter from Nelle Harper Lee, kind words about my own work. I’ll never receive a letter that gives me more pleasure. It was better than meeting her, I think -- I didn’t have a chance to say anything foolish. Her voice, clear and warm and familiar, rose up like a lovely perfume from the pages in my hand.
That was when I gave up trying to meet Harper Lee. I decided to leave her alone. She had given me a gift greater than she would ever know, and if she wanted to be left alone, that was her right. I think ... I’m beginning to understand why she stayed locked up inside her life all these years. She wrote a book that was better than anybody else’s book, and never saw the need to publish another. I think she (ital) wanted (end ital) to stay inside.
© 1997 by Mark Childress. All rights reserved.