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58 Years of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

Today marks 58 years since the publication of Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

58 years since the world was introduced to Scout, Jem, and Atticus Finch. 58 years since we walked through the streets of Maycomb, Alabama for the first time. 58 years since we learned “You never really know a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

To Kill a Mockingbird, a “magnificent, powerful novel of the people of a quiet southern town—rocked by a crisis of conscience,” has maintained incredible relevancy in its 58 years, touching the hearts and minds of its audience.

Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in the 1962 film adaptation landed Atticus Finch as #1 on the American Film Institue’s “100 Greatest Heroes & Villians” list, recognizing characters that “have a made a mark on American society in matters of style and substance” as well as continue “to inspire contemporary artists and audiences.”

In 2015, Harper Lee released Go Set a Watchman, a novel set after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird in which Scout returns to Maycomb, Alabama. Aompanion to the American classic, Go Set a Watchman adds “depth, contex, and new meaning” to the story we’ve grown to love.

In April, the Monroe County Heritage Museum hosted its production of To Kill a Mockingbird for the twenty-ninth year. The museum, located in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, held its first play of the timeless novel in 1991 as a fundraiser. Since then, the play has attracted a wide audience, captivating students, community members, and even travelers eager for the experience.

On December 13, New York will see opening night of Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird starring Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch.

For whatever reason, this book, this story, and Harper Lee as an author has resonated with me throughout the years. I find myself bringing this book and these themes into projects or conversation whenever possible. Whether it be a comparison of Frankenstein’s monster to Boo Radley a tribute to the late Harper Lee or an analysis of Annette Lemieux’s Mise en Scene exhibition featuring contemporary art pieces from the filming of the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird such as Spin and Area of Refuge, To Kill a Mockingbird has played a critical role in my academic career and personal self.

Two years ago, I spent a great deal of time sifting through my grandfather’s book collection as he prepared to move. Among the collection of classic titles was a tiny, paperback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, a title I’ve been longing to add to my own collection since reading the novel as a sophomore in high school. My copy is slightly tattered with yellowing pages and that old book smell, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Written by Carlie Sisco

 

 

Why Banned Books Matter to You

I was first presented with the concept of censorship in my freshman year of high school with my English instructor’s overenthusiastic ‘celebration’ of Banned Books Week.
In the fourth week of class, I remember walking to my desk to the sound of Mrs. Burrows’ marker squeaking against the whiteboard as she feverishly wrote out the titles of five books: The Great Gatsby, 1984, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, To Kill a Mockingbird and Junie B. Jones. Upon turning around, she asked the class what these books had in common, a question met by a combination of blank stares.

She tried a second time. “What is this week a celebration of?” Once again, she received deafening silence in response. Shaking her head, she scrawled the word ‘censorship’ on the board and thus began a semester long unit centered on the theme of censorship throughout literature and history.

Perhaps due to my own ignorance, and in part due to my school system’s previous lack of focus on the topic, censorship in first-world countries was a new concept to me. I knew of course that it existed throughout the world in the form of government oppression for the purposes of assuring no anti-political media was being fed to the public or no irreligious ideas were being spread in conservative countries. I never imagined, however, that censorship was an issue in America—an issue that is very much a concern today.

The notion that a writer armed with nothing more than an idea and pen could serve as such as a powerful weapon is a curious one. What is it about the written word that so frightens us, compelling governments to implement laws banning the products of an author’s ambition—the compilation of ideas written on the backs of coffeehouse napkins, stories etched into journals with the hope that someday, those very stories would be “enough” to really touch someone in the way only words can. Perhaps this is the very reason literature intrigues so many people just as it repels others. Willingly exposing yourself to a literary work is somewhat of an unspoken consent in allowing another’s ideas to merge with your own. This silent revolution is one world leaders are hopelessly trying to extinguish—feeding words into the mouths of authors with the threat of reducing them to oblivion. Ironically, by limiting the idea authors can share, this threat is already implemented. It is essential for our writers to not fall into this trap—to continue penning their unfiltered ideas—and being willing to brace the criticism doubtlessly endured by all great art. Just as the tragic heroes, the protagonists of our favorite tales must go through hell and back to become victorious, and the brilliance behind these tales, the authors, must take just as difficult of a journey in making the choice between submission to the mainstream literature or the struggle of penning their true words. The takeaway? Write warily, pen with caution, and allow your true voice to resonate.

Written by Nav Kaur, ’18

Loss of a Literary Legend: A Tribute to Harper Lee

On Friday, February 19, the world mourned the loss of literary icon, Harper Lee and the following day, at age 89, the beloved author, woman, and friend was laid to rest. The tragic news was confirmed by the mayor’s office in the town where Lee was born, raised, and passed: Monroeville, Alabama. The report was made public by Al.com.

How does one commemorate the life of an author brimming with accomplishments, accolades, and insight? I could spend hundreds of characters recounting definitive biographical details, numerous words reminiscing the immense impact a single author’s piece of literature had on the entire world and anyone that flipped through its pages. I could spend days and countless hours pondering in front of my computer screen, fingers idly hovering the keyboard, knowing that none of the words I want to say are worthy enough for such an influential and inspiring woman.

Only a few had the honor of knowing Lee personally. Several had the privilege to ask her questions and pick the brain that brought us one of the most significant American novels. Others, her readers, knew Lee through her invitation to Maycomb, Alabama, the confident voice of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, and the admiration of literary hero, Atticus.

In 1960, the world had the pleasure of meeting the small-town Alabama author. Her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, spoke volumes about humanity, justice, and prejudice through the innocent eyes of a child. The novel, dubbed a classic piece of American literature, “has been translated into more than 40 languages with more than a million copies sold each year,” a story that is taught in classrooms internationally.

As a writer, whether To Kill a Mockingbird falls into your lap during a high school English class or you stumble upon it on your own accord, Lee has so much to teach you. First and foremost, Lee teaches us what it’s like to be a writer. She exemplifies the success, the obstacles, the hardships, and the passion for the craft.

In a 1964 interview conducted by Roy Newquist, Lee divulged ample words of wisdom pertinent to aspiring writers and a testament to her legacy.

She demonstrated that it’s okay to write about what is familiar. There are several parallels that can be drawn between life in To Kill a Mockingbird and the life of Harper Lee. Hints of her lawyer father, Amasa Coleman Lee, live in Atticus Finch from occupation, to values, to the defense of African American men in trial. She pulled aspects of herself to shape strong-willed protagonist, Scout. Even the southern setting, Maycomb, Alabama parallels Lee’s hometown. Lee took what she knew, fused it with empowering words, a compelling, impactful story-line and unforgettable characters. She took a small-town story and paired it with realistic American issues to create this overnight classic.

Lee taught us the importance of empathy and characters in saying “Characters make their own plot. The dimensions of the characters determine the action of the novel.” To Kill a Mockingbird gifted the world with memorable characters that will live on in the midst of Lee’s legacy. You become a part of Maycomb’s community. You love, admire, and look up to Atticus as Scout does. You inhabit a sense of childish innocence and sense of adventure with Dill, Scout, and Jem. You want to protect the introvert, Arthur “Boo” Radley just as much as he wants to protect the kids. You feel what they feel, learn what they learn and keep in the back of your mind Atticus saying, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Lee taught us that if it is a passion, you need to pursue it. Writing is time consuming. It demands full and undivided attention. Lee was fortunate enough to be given the gift of financial support from a close friend, so that she could devote herself to writing full time. She says, “I like to write…when I get into work I don’t want to leave it.” And, with that devotion, with that passion, Lee cannot stress enough that writing is something one must do for themselves. The young writer cannot sit down to write with the intention of getting rich, receiving praise, and to create something for the world. Writing like that loses authenticity. She believes, “You must come to terms with yourself about your writing. You must not write “for” something; you must not write with definite hopes of reward…Writing is selfish and contradictory in its terms. First of all, you’re writing for an audience of one, you must please the one person you’re writing for….Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself.”

It is surreal to think that a woman that could teach the world so much could be taken from our lives. Harper Lee was always someone I believed to be immortal and, in some ways, I still believe she is, because Harper Lee loved to write and in doing so she placed a little bit of her soul into whatever she left behind. Harper Lee will live on in her novels, in her characters, in her tremendous contribution to society. She writes in To Kill a Mockingbird, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us.” Thank you for singing your heart out Harper Lee.

Written by Carlie Sisco

(Image by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)