The Writing Allstars – Harper Lee

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

I realize that I started this series claiming that “there are a myriad of reasons that I may like a book, but an author – that’s talking about a much larger and deeper scope of influence worth exploring.” I also realize that I am about to extol the writing excellence of an author who wrote only one book in the entirety of her life. The irony is not lost. However, I think the true merit of Harper Lee’s contribution may not lie in the work itself, though it is moving. I think that her life, the events that led up to the conception of this novel, are the moments that truly moved me. She wrote her heart onto the page and shared it with the world. She said what she had to say in one glorious and lasting story. And then she was silent.

Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.

To my high-school mind, To Kill a Mockingbird was about racism, plain and simple. And it was. But to leave the definition of this book with that simple description is to do it a great disservice. Yes, it is about racism. But it is also about courage and honor and fighting for what is right. It’s about seeing people for who they really are, for seeking to understand what moves them. It’s about human rights. It’s about you. It’s about me. It is full of painful moments, full of heaviness, full of sadness, full of hope. It is the heart of a woman put to paper. It is a memoir of a memory.

Cry about the simple hell people give other people – without even thinking.

Harper Lee was given a year to write whatever she wanted and this is what she chose to write. It took her two and a half years of re-writes before it was fit to publish and she never wrote another book, never spoke at conferences or awards luncheons. She shunned the public eye and felt it was better to remain silent then be thought a fool. I can’t imagine the weight of this story, pressing upon her, burning to be told, and the relief she must have felt after it was finished, her story. There was no follow-up; no other intensely moving novel. No series contracts. There was simply, the story. And then, she just slipped away. Back to her life, humble and happy.

There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.

Because of Harper Lee, I found Salinger and Steinbeck. Because of her, I realized that the motivations behind the moments are often more significant than the moments themselves. Because of Lee I realized that whether fame or fortune follow, the story must be told. Because of Harper Lee I am the writer I am today.

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