Category Archives: Harper Lee

More on Southern Women Writers — televised segments of “American Masters”

       Fortunate timing!  Corresponding to recent blog posts here on Southern women writers, I stumbled upon news about two back-to-back American Masters series segments to be televised on PBS this next week concerning two Southern women writers:

Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel premieres nationally Monday, April 2, 2012 at 9 p.m. followed by Harper Lee: Hey, Boo at 10 p.m. (you’re advised to check local listings).

Am especially interested in the program about Harper Lee, who wrote the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  My earlier blog post discusses why I recently developed a bit of a fascination about her life.  I hope this American Masters segment sheds more light on her.

Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind.  I haven’t read this novel.  I’ve seen the film 2-3 times and enjoyed it.  Actors Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were terrific as Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and their portrayals are now cinematic legend.  The movie is something of an “epic,” and I guess people would say the same about the novel, I imagine.  I’ll probably watch the American Masters segment also on Margaret Mitchell just to familiarize myself with her a bit.

P.S.  As an aside, I began watching American Masters series in the late 1980s.  This is a no-holds-barred quality presentation about individual writers, poets, film directors, musicians, composers, actors, visual artists, etc. who have had an impact on the arts in America.  While the format of some of the segments are a bit similar, there is nothing “cookie cutter” about how the biographical material is presented.  For example, for Charlie Chaplin there are three segments.  I believe the presentation on Bob Dylan is two segments.  The people who make these segments do a good job of drawing the viewer in to the life, mind and creativity of each person discussed in a way that makes you understand how this person worked and created.

Anyway I’ve never been bored watching an American Masters segment.  After I saw the one on George Gershwin I walked around for a couple of days saying I was in love with a dead man (I was so enamored with this man’s talent and the music he composed and played.  I remember being astonished that he never married and   shocked that he died before he reached 40…)

Yes, this is my plug for the PBS American Masters series.  Check it out sometime if you’re not able to watch next week’s segments on Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee.

Southern Women Writers — Thinking about Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird

Last month, February 2012, I wanted to read something to commemorate it being Black History Month. It occurred to me sometime in the past year that I’d never read the book or seen the film based on the book To Kill a Mockingbird. What I knew vaguely about the book is that it takes place in the American South and it is about a white Southern male lawyer who defends an impoverished Black man when he is accused of raping a white woman.

I remember being slightly shocked when I initially was told by someone that this was what the novel was about (not the entire plot as it turns out, however a very pivotal aspect of the story). I’d also read that Robert Duvall played the part of “Boo Radley” in the movie, and this was one of his first roles, I believe, as an actor. I didn’t know who this character Boo Radley was and where it fit into the story. Basically I had some pretty disjointed knowledge and questions about what this novel was actually going to be about as I went about to read it.

Turns out it is actually of a coming of age story about Scout Finch, a 6-7 year old girl, and her view of the world that includes her father (lawyer Atticus Finch), her 11-12 year old brother, their neighbors including the reclusive Boo Radley, and some other asundry characters as well. The story takes place in the late 1930s in a small Alabama town and for Atticus, a white man lawyer, to believe in and defend a Black man who is falsely accused of raping a white woman, it caused quite a stir in the town. The dynamics of the trial and Atticus’s fortitude in the face of the white townspeople awakens in the reader an awareness of how prevalent biogtry and racism was there.

The writer, Harper Lee herself, is from the South and this story’s voice has the depth of authenticity to it. The book was published actually in the late 1950s, I believe (the book celebrated its 50 year anniversary in 2008). It is not my intention here to write about the novel itself, its themes and characterizations and such. What is interesting to me are two things: first, the book won a Pulitzer Prize. This is pretty astounding in my opinion and I believe the book (& Harper Lee, the author) earned it. What is amazing is that this was Lee’s first published novel (!) And this leads me to the second thing: Harper Lee did not write any other novels. It is said that she collaborated with her longtime (from childhood) friend, Truman Capote, on doing research for his work, In Cold Blood, so she was involved in the literary world after the publishing and subsequent popularity of To Kill a Mockingbird. Still it seems strange and kind of sad that she didn’t go on to write more. Fame and all the hullabaloo that goes along with it perhaps played a part in Harper Lee not being able to write more. Also I read that two of her good friends, a couple, gave her money to be able to take off a year working a 9-5 job so that she would be able to write (& the result was her writing TKAMB). So maybe, after that experience, Lee was not able to feel free enough to take the time again to write. It is hard to say or speculate why.