Today is the birthday of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. This is, if not my favorite, near the very top of the list of books that I love. Fantastic story of growing up, racism, courage and standing up for what is right in the deep South. If you haven’t read it (and many schools teach it now, so chances are you’ve at least read the Cliffs Notes), you must do so. Immediately. Go get it right now. Seriously. Here’s a little about the author, from today’s Writer’s Almanac:
To support herself while writing, she worked for several years as a reservation clerk at British Overseas Airline Corporation and at Eastern Air Lines. In December of 1956, some of her New York friends gave her a year’s salary along with a note: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” She decided to devote herself to writing and moved into an apartment with only cold water and improvised furniture.
Lee wrote very slowly, extensively revising for two and a half years on the manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird (which she had called at different times “Go Set a Watchman” and “Atticus”). She called herself “more a rewriter than writer,” and on a winter night in 1958, she was so frustrated with the progress of her novel and its many drafts that she threw the manuscripts out the window of her New York apartment into the deep snow below. She called her editor to tell him, and he convinced her to go outside and collect the papers.
To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1960 and was immediately a popular and critical success. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961.
Lee later said, “I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”
To Kill a Mockingbird was the only major work she ever wrote.