Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Harper Lee and the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Harper Lee was just granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom for To Kill a Mockingbird. And what better a work to command such an honor? If you've ever read the book, and who hasn't, you know what an amazing work it is. It's so richly textured that you can read it again and again, further dissecting it and finding new aspects of it that contribute to the whole. The bird imagery, the use of light and dark to highlight the character of each of the players- they all add up to a masterpiece of observation and persuasion. There's just the one little thing...I really don't think she wrote it.

Rumors have dogged To Kill a Mockingbird for decades, but here's what tipped me off: she came up with such a richly-textured work as her first novel, and never wrote another book. Say what, now? Someone with that ability couldn't come up with anything else? Apparently not. She also never talks about the book and never gives interviews. Adding to the questions is that fact that she lived next door to Truman Capote, who wrote novels on similar subjects and with similar nature imagery. There's nothing that can be proven, of course, but I'll always have questions. Why nothing else from Harper Lee? Why never talk about a book that won her the Pulitzer Prize?

I live a few hours from Monroeville and poised the question to a native Monroevillian who had been in the town's annual production of the play based on the book, because I'm just that obnoxious. The reaction was swift and severe. No, Capote had nothing to do with it, I was told, and never say that to anyone from Monroeville. They take their native daughter very seriously, going so far as to never tell anyone from out of town where she lives. Apparently she lives there part time and has her main residence in New York. While she's in Monroeville she's treated like a queen and protected from any pesky reporters with questions.

Since the book, Harper Lee attempted a novel but never published it because she reportedly was having too many problems with it. It just doesn't seem to me that someone capable of To Kill a Mockingbird could have that much trouble writing a novel. After that book she probably could have published her shopping list in book form and been guaranteed a certain number of sales.

So, did Capote write it? Who knows? I think that if he didn't, he definitely helped her with it quite a lot. Where was he when I was trying to make that sci-fi novel work? Oh yeah- dead. But, Harper Lee is alive, and if any novel deserves the Medal, it's the one that has her name on it.


Holli Jo said...

This is a fascinating idea - I had never thought about Harper Lee in that light before. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I love your blog, by the way. :)

L. Shepherd said...

Thanks! I appreciate the look.