New flight for Mockingbird
FIFTY YEARS AFTER HER FIRST BOOK BECAME A GLOBAL SENSATION, HARPER LEE’S SECOND NOVEL TAKES FLIGHT TODAY, WRITES BLANCHE CLARK HARPER Lee is an enigma. The most famous author in the world for a single novel, she is also one of the least known.
The 89- year- old shuns publicity and recently told an investigative reporter in her home town in Alabama to “go away” after he made repeated attempts to contact her about her new novel. Unofficial biographies, interviews from the 1960s and carefully crafted press releases are all that’s available.
Nelle ( her grandmother’s name spelt backwards) Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, Alabama. Her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature and also owned part of the local newspaper. Her mother apparently suffered from a mental illness and rarely left the house.
Lee, the youngest of four children,hild studied law at the University of Alabama, but after a summer at Oxford University in England as an exchange student she moved to New York City in 1949 to follow her dream of becoming a writer.
She befriended Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown and his wife, Joy, who generously supported her for a year so she could write. The Browns also helped her find an agent, who encouraged her to turn one of her short stories into a novel.
She submitted the manuscript to JB Lippincott Company in 1957 and, over the next two years, editor Tay Hohoff guided her.
But the process took its toll and it’s said she became so frustrated when revising the third draft of To Kill A Mockingbird – or Atticus, as she called it – she threw the manuscript out of her apartment window into the snow.
Hohoff told her in no uncertain terms to retrieve it and in July 1960, JB Lippincott published. It won the Pulitzer Prize the next year.
When he asked her about her reaction to the novel’s enormous success, she replied: “It was like being hit over the head and knocked cold. You see, I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement.”
In the mid- 1960s, Lee reportedly worked on a second novel, but it was never published. She also worked on a nonfiction book about an Alabama serial killer, which also never saw the light of day.
Today, the long- awaited sequel to Mockingbird will finally be released.
Go Set A Watchman is set in the mid- 1950s and includes several characters from Mockingbird, 20 years on.
Jean Louise Finch, known as a child as Scout, returns to Maycomb from New York to visit her father, Atticus. Suddenly she must grapple with issues, personal and political.
NOVEL SUCCESS: Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch with Brock Peters as Tom Robinson in a scene from To Kill A Mockingbird ( 1962), and ( inset) author Harper Lee.