Harper Lee

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Harper Lee has died.  She is the woman behind one of the most read, taught, and influential novels of the 20th century.  She retreated from the public spotlight, and never wrote another novel in her life (at least not one that any of us know about).  The recently published Go Set a Watchman is actually an earlier draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.

While I am not the acolyte many people are, I read Mockingbird in high school like so many others.  (I should reread it; I know I missed huge portions of the meanings and symbolism.)  The power of the written word to change people’s lives is writ large in the great love for this book.  It’s one of those books that matters, but it mattered so much to people that Lee ran from the fame it brought.  She was the polar opposite of her friend Truman Capote, who ran headlong into that fame and held on to it until it killed him.  She was also a little like J.D. Salinger in that she became a mystery and cipher, although from what I gather she was a much better and nicer human being that he ever could have hoped to be.

The first rule of good writing is write what you know, and Harper Lee followed that rule so beautifully and perfectly.  She knew the world of Mockingbird because it was basically her home town.  She understood the motivations and emotions of the characters she created.  She saw their pettiness and prejudice for what they were, as well as their kindness and generosity.  And she imagined a world where the meanness of life didn’t crush all hope, even when the cause was lost.

It has nothing to do with mockingbirds or Lee’s famous novel, but I kind of feel like this song is a good way to honor her.  This version is probably my favorite after the original, and its gentle sadness seems appropriate.  May Nelle Harper Lee’s transition to the next plane be full of peace.