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Harper Lee

Harper Lee

Harper Lee: Writing Mockingbird

The writing of To Kill A Mockingbird was a slow and painful process. At one point, Lee grew so frustrated she opened the window of her New York apartment and hurled the entire manuscript into the snow (at her editor's orders, she later retrieved it). Meanwhile, real-life events were helping shape the fictional world of Maycomb. On 28 August 1955, a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, was savagely beaten to death by a mob after he allegedly whistled at a white woman. Three months later, a 42-year-old African-American bus passenger named Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, after she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. The outrage surrounding these two events led to a series of coordinated protests, whose organizers included a charismatic preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr. The Civil Rights Movement was beginning to roll.

Then, on 11 July 1960, a novel was published that reminded everyone of what they were fighting for. To Kill A Mockingbird tells the story of an honorable Alabama lawyer, Atticus Finch, who defends a black man named Tom Robinson against a false accusation of rape. Atticus's daughter, 8-year-old Scout, narrates the story, and is one of few to recognize the injustice of the race and class struggle taking place in her town. Mockingbird was an instant success. "Author Lee, 34, an Alabaman, has written her first novel with all of the tactile brilliance and none of the preciosity generally supposed to be standard swamp-warfare issue for Southern writers. The novel is an account of an awakening to good and evil," wrote Time magazine. "Novelist Lee's prose has an edge that cuts through cant, and she teaches the reader an astonishing number of useful truths about little girls and about Southern life."9In 1961, Lee was awarded the Pulitzer Prize—quite an accomplishment for a first-time novelist. The following year it was made into an Academy Award-winning film starring Gregory Peck, who became one of Lee's close friends. Mockingbird went on to sell 30 million copies in 18 languages. Harper Lee's book had become an American treasure.

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