― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
On this day in 1926, I was born in Monroeville, Alabama.
I was stunned by the immediate and overwhelming success of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).
I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but,
at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement.
I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.
Perhaps this was why, despite forecasting more books, I have published only three short magazine articles since, all in the 60's.
Which of us knows truly why we have done what we have done.
Nor have I lightly broken the silence and anonymity into which I quickly retreated,
But Samuel Clemens' ghost has hounded me to speak for his friend, Roland.
He says like his HUCK FINN, my book is the distilled essence of the great American novel.
Yet I do not break my silence to rid myself of a ghostly pest.
I break it for the tall man in black, Captain McCord, who keeps shooing Clemens from my table at Meilori's. He so reminds me of my Atticus Finch.
Then, again, maybe I do not relish being categorized and sorted.
We Americans like to put our culture into disposable containers. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way we treat our past.
We discard villages, towns, even cities, when they grow old, and we are now in the process of discarding our recorded history, not in a shredder, but by rewriting it as romance.
We are eager to watch docu-dramas on television; we prefer to read a history of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of Mad Anthony Wayne's last mistress.
Now there is nothing wrong in reading historical fiction--
perhaps two-thirds of the world's classics are written in that form. But these are impatient days; more than ever it seems that we want anything but the real thing:
We are afraid that the real thing might be dull, demanding, and worst of all, lacking in suspense.
Dull, boring? Oh, my.
Wordsworth was right when he said that we trail clouds of glory as we come into the world, that we are born with a divine sense of perception.
As we grow older, the world closes in on us, and we gradually lose the freshness of viewpoint that we had as children. That is why I think children should get to know this country while they are young.
I would like to show children my own town, my own street, my own neighbors. I live on the corner.
My next-door neighbor is a barber, and his wife owns a dress shop. My down-the-street neighbor has a grocery store, and my neighbor down the hill is a teacher.
My neighbor to the rear is a doctor; behind him is a druggist. If children were visiting--from abroad or from other parts of the country--
They would have cookies and ice cream for them, and take them to the park with the lake and the swimming pool,
And my cook, Mary, would make them an enormous cake covered with caramel frosting,
and for dinner give them fresh vegetables from the garden and Southern chicken cooked right. And then we would let them alone, to explore on their own.
It's stifling to have adults with you all the time when you are a child, to tell you about everything and explain things away for you.
There is no sense of discovery for a young, exploring spirit when adults are with you all the time to give absolutely straight answers to everything. And now you know why I named my narrator, Scout.
And that is quite enough about me, readers. I will go back to my iced tea and chatting with the sad-eyed Captain McCord. Perhaps I can make those dark eyes smile.