On this day in 1926, Nelle Harper Lee was born. She was the youngest of four children born to Frances Cunningham Finch and Amasa Coleman Lee. Had she not passed away in February of last year, Ms. Lee would be ninety-one years old today.
I was almost at a loss for words when it came time to write a birthday tribute to “Nelle” Harper Lee. What more could possibly be said about an award winning, nationally treasured author? This task was almost like searching for a gift for the person that has everything.
Very rarely does an author’s debut novel not only almost instantly become successful, but also go on to become a literary classic. Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird accomplished both of those feats. To Kill a Mockingbird was later adapted into a film version starring Gregory Peck, and the novel won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize in the fiction category.
For more than half a century, it was believed by most that To Kill a Mockingbird was and would continue to be the only book that Lee ever wrote or published. However, in 2015, Lee surprised us with her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, which actually turned out to be a prequel to Mockingbird.
Across the globe, To Kill a Mockingbird still has an impact on people’s lives. The classic novel is mentioned or quoted in numerous novels, television shows and movies. Even President Barack Obama quoted Atticus Finch in his farewell speech.
Furthermore, the legacy of Nelle Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird have lived on in Monroeville, even after her death. There are few places you can visit, or even drive past, without a subtle reminder of Mockingbird, or Nelle herself.
And on her birthday, perhaps that is what is best. For us to simply be reminded of her. Divulge yourself in a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird or Go Set a Watchman. Not a big reader? Perhaps you would rather watch the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. If you’re a fan of audio books, maybe you would like to listen to either the audio version of To Kill a Mockingbird (narrated by Sissy Spacek) or Go Set a Watchman (narrated by Reese Witherspoon). If you are able, go see a live theatrical performance of To Kill a Mockingbird. If you are local or happen to be in Monroeville, visit the Old Courthouse or take a drive or stroll through downtown.
While it may be her birthday, we were the ones who were given a gift. We have a legacy to remember her by, and to pass on to the next generation. Nelle Harper Lee was once quoted as saying that all she wanted was “to be the Jane Austen of South Alabama.“
As a native of Alabama and Monroeville, and as a fan of both To Kill a Mockingbird and Jane Austen, I think it is safe to say that Ms. Lee succeeded.
So, we at OCBS ask that you remember and celebrate Ms. Lee on her birthday. She may have passed, but she is most certainly not forgotten.
Happy Birthday, Nelle Harper Lee!