Well, this really is the big one, isn't it? Harper Lee's novel about a young girl's awakening to social injustice in the South is one of the classics of American literature. It appears on just about every "Best Novels" list in the English language. Forty years later, it still flies off the shelf like it's Oprah's latest book club pick. Go read it already!
This is the first novel by Lee's childhood friend and Monroeville neighbor, Truman Capote. The book is about an eccentric, effeminate boy who is befriended by a tomboyish girl named Isabel. Both writers used details from their childhood in their books, including each other: Capote is the model for Mockingbird's Dill, and Lee is the model for Other Voices, Other Rooms's Isabel. Capote's original draft of Other Voices also contained a reclusive character who leaves little gifts in his tree, based on a Monroeville man. He took it out, but Lee used that local character in her book as Boo Radley.
Lee accompanied her childhood friend Truman Capote while he conducted his research for this nonfiction book, which has since been considered the prototype of the "nonfiction novel." Lee and Capote spent time in Kansas interviewing people and gathering details on the murder of the four members of the Clutter family. The meticulous, organized Lee carefully typed more than 100 pages of notes. Though her cooperation was vital, Capote never really acknowledged publicly how much she contributed.
Lee has refused to cooperate with biographers over the years. Shields was no exception—not a single interview with Lee appears in this book. Undaunted, Shields pursued the story of her life through friends, old colleagues and classmates, and lots of historical data instead. The result is the most comprehensive biography yet of the famously private writer. Don't expect any dirt, though—Lee's closest friends are just as protective of her privacy as she is.
Along with Harper Lee and Truman Capote, novelist Carson McCullers belongs to the literary genre known as Southern Gothic. Her debut novel, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, is an exquisite, haunting story about a deaf man in 1930s Georgia. Like Lee does with Boo Radley, McCullers's writing draws sensitive, nuanced pictures of people who live on the edge of society.
A number of real-life cases served as inspiration for Tom Robinson's trial in To Kill A Mockingbird. The most famous perhaps was the 1931 Scottsboro Boys Trial. This non-fiction account details the harrowing trial and imprisonment of nine young black men who were falsely accused of raping two white women. Goodman describes the complex social politics and racial tensions that surrounded the sensational trial.