This great book has certainly changed me, and after I heard the news of Harper Lee’s death at 89, I thought about the power of her masterpiece.
Lee dedicated Mockingbird to her sister Alice Finch Lee, who lived to be 103, and their father Amasa Lee. He once defended two black men hanged in 1919 for murdering a white shopkeeper in Monroeville.
She moved to New York, where Truman Persons, then Capote, had become a well-known writer. While in New York, two of Capote’s friends made it possible for Lee to quit her job as an airline reservations clerk and write full time.
These generous friends--famous Broadway lyricist Michael Brown and his wife, Joy Williams, a ballet dancer--gave Lee a Christmas present, paying all of her expenses for a year to write whatever she wanted, but it took Lee two years to write Mockingbird, I was told. The publisher said it might not sell more than a few thousand copies, but upon publication in July 1960, the book became a best-seller and continues to sell millions each year.
It is estimated she earned and continues to earn royalties of more than $9,000 a day. However, her fortune never influenced her life.
She lived like a spartan. Before she moved into the assisted living facility, she had no air conditioning or television set, until a caretaker demanded them, I was told.
She never married and had no children, but she birthed a great book that I believe changed lives and has certainly inspired me to write, not simply to entertain, but to transform with words. For that I’m thankful.