Monday, February 22, 2016

A Homage To Harper Lee

Nelle Harper Lee (April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016)
Harper Lee was an American novelist widely known for To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. Immediately successful, the novel won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has become a classic of modern American literature. Though Lee had only published this single book, in 2007 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. Additionally, Lee received numerous honorary degrees, though she declined to speak on those occasions. In 2015, Miss Lee published Go Set A Watchman, a sequel to her novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.
A Homage To Harper Lee
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum. People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. But it was a time of vague optimism for some of the people: Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself.
from To Kill A Mockingbird

Harper Lee had a gift for writing like few others do. Her view of the world was both straightforward and poetic. She had the rare ability to combine realism with the emotions we all feel — love, hate, fear, prejudice, compassion.

As a young boy reading To Kill A Mockingbird, I must admit the southern American backdrop to the novel was somewhat unfamiliar to me. After all, I grew up in the west on the prairies, and although Maycomb was a small town much like any prairie town, the sense of tradition and Victorian sensibility was somewhat lost on me. Women who were "like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum" were the stuff of dreams. Still, that is what a great writer does — opens the imagination and coaxes the reader into dreams.

To Kill A Mockingbird has always been an important novel. The story confronts such social dilemmas as rape, murder, savagery, injustice, and most significantly, prejudice. It intertwines a sense of mystery with a stunning "coming of age" tale, and it certainly offered me a view of the world like I had never seen before.

Harper Lee had a gift to offer the world. That gift was no less than her encouragement to help each of us understand the common humanity we all share. She helped me to grow as a writer, but more importantly, as a person.

Nelle Harper Lee passed away last week in her Alabama hometown of Monroeville at the age of 89 years. She will be sorely missed.


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