Thursday, April 28, 2022

Apr. 28: Harper Lee, American novelist


(Nelle) Harper Lee (1926-2016) was an American novelist. When her first (and almost only) novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was published in 1960 (and won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), she was not an unknown in the publishing world. She was a lifelong friend of Truman Capote ("Dill" in TKAM was based on him). His first novel was published in 1948, and Breakfast at Tiffany's ten years later; she lived near him in Manhattan, and accompanied him to Kansas to do the research on In Cold Blood. At Christmas in 1956, friends gave her a gift of a year's wages with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." What she wrote was a mangled manuscript called Go Set a Watchman. With the help of seasoned editor Tay Hohoff at Lippincott, it became the polished To Kill a Mockingbird, a book which she said was not a "coming of age" story but a look at the irrational prejudices of adults as seen through the eyes of children. She was never to publish another novel until in 2015, HarperCollins announced it would publish Go Set a Watchman, first described as a "sequel" to TKAM, but later admitted to be an early draft. Allegations that unscrupulous background players (a lawyer, an agent, etc.) coerced Lee into doing what she said she never would--publish another novel--were never proven, though it is suspicious that this all happened just two and a half months after her sister--a lawyer who had been her protector--passed away. (I refuse to read it, not least because it portrays my one of my fictional heroes, Atticus Finch, as something of a racist.)


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