With the exception of Fairview and Caldwell Lanes, the primary streets and roads throughout the neighborhood are named after Southern authors and writers. The narrow “byways” are all named for local people who were in the chain of title for property purchased for the New Neighborhood.

Harper Lee

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
               -- From To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

These words hold special meaning for residents of Harper Lee Street. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) was Harper Lee’s only published book. For many of us, introduction to this work came when it was released as a motion picture in 1962. The film stars Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch (a small, Southern town lawyer) and Mary Badham as Scout and Phillip Alford as Jem (Atticus Finch’s two children). Robert Duvall played the role of Boo Radley. The movie won three Oscars: Best Direction, Best Set Decoration, and Best Actor.

For those who always find the “book to be better than the movie,” this classic is a wonderful novel, rich in the language, humor, and honesty as could only be seen from the perspective of the two children, Scout and Jem. The book explores adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South during the 1930s. To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than 20 languages and has sold over 30 million copies worldwide.

Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. Monroeville (population 7,000) is located in Monroe County in southwest Alabama, about halfway between Montgomery and Mobile. Harper was the youngest of four children in the family of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Finch Lee. Amasa was a well known and respected member of the Monroeville community. He was a lawyer and a member of the State Legislature from 1926 to 1938. He edited The Monroe Journal from 1929 to 1947. Amasa had hoped that Harper would become a member of his law firm, but Miss Lee had other plans and went to New York to become a writer. Harper Lee’s mother, Frances Cunningham Finch Lee, came from a Virginia family who moved to Monroe County, Alabama, and founded Finchburg.

Harper Lee attended Huntingdon College (1944-45), studied law at the University of Alabama (1945-49), and attended one year at Oxford University. Before concentrating on her writing in the 1950s, she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines in New York City. With the illness of her father, Miss Lee divided her time between New York and Monroeville. She continues to travel between the two locations.

Miss Lee originally submitted the manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird to J. B. Lippincott Company in 1957. With a great deal of re-writing, it was finally published in 1960. Although To Kill a Mockingbird was her only published book, she did write and publish a number of other essays and articles that have appeared in magazines such as Vogue and McCalls. Little is truly known about Harper Lee’s current life and plans. She does apparently still plays golf and it is speculated that she is writing her memoirs. She has received the Pulitzer Prize, several honorary degrees, and other literary awards. In 1966, she was one of two persons named by President Johnson to the National Council of Arts.

Do you own a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird? In 1996, a copy listed in “very good” condition sold for $2,500. Prices are now in the $5,000 range. A presentation copy was bought at auction for $12,650. Our family has started the tradition of giving a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird to all of our overnight guests. Sorry, folks, no first editions here!

One final bit of trivia: When To Kill a Mockingbird opened at the Monroe Theatre on March 28, 1963, tickets were $1.00 for adults and $ .50 for children. The theatre paid ten dollars cash each to the first five customers bringing in a live mockingbird on the Saturday before the opening. When was the last time you saw a first run movie for fifty cents?

Update: There is a new biography of her entitled Mockingbird by Charles J. Shields. The May 29, 2006, issue of New Yorker has an article about Harper Lee, Truman Capote, To Kill a Mockingbird (both the book and the film), and some comments about the new biography.

Harper Lee and Truman Capote were early friends. Many critics have speculated that Capote actually authored the well known novel. Although he did provide guidance to Harper Lee on the manuscript, correspondence between the two strongly supports Harper Lee as the author. Experts also agree that the rich dialog and language in To Kill a Mockingbird does not fit Capote’s style.

For more information, please visit www.newyorker.com/critics/books/articles/060529crbo_books.

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