Charles J. Shields: A Remembrance of Harper Lee

Charles J. Shields

Charles Shields BiographyCharles J. Shields: Background

Charles J. Shields is a literary biographer and the author of the newly revised, MockingbirdA Portrait of Harper Lee, from Scout to Go Set a Watchman (Holt 2016). The earlier version in 2006 became a  New York Times bestseller. He and his wife reside in Charlottesville, Virginia. Upon request, Charles Shields gifted us with the following remembrance of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird:

Charles J. Shields: A Remembrance of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

I grew up in what was called a planned community for ex-GIs and their families, south of Chicago, after World War II. As a child, I thought everyone’s father had been in the military and now worked in the city. All of my classmates were white. This wasn’t just happenstance: it was the result of the community developers, banks, and local realtors discouraging minority families from purchasing homes in that town. The first Black American to shake my hand was the father of a friend on the track team who was giving me a lift home, my junior year of high school. I feel ashamed remembering how strange that moment felt.

When I visit high schools today, I’m struck by a paradox. Racism is not the issue it once was because the students are so diverse; and yet, To Kill a Mockingbird is all the more teachable. Now, the novel inspires discussions in the classroom about differences of religion, politics, and lifestyle, and understanding “the other.” The book has become a springboard for confronting forms of discrimination and hatred most readers wouldn’t have considered fifty years ago.

To Kill a Mockingbird will continue to be read however because of a trait it has in common with all great works of literature. All enduring works of literature read you, the reader, as you read the book. What I mean is, important books and stories probe your convictions; silently, they ask what you stand for. You can leave a piece of escapism on an airplane seat and not think about it again because, well, you’ve never been a movie star; you don’t belong to a secret, criminal organization. But when you read To Kill a Mockingbird, you have to wonder, even if just subconsciously: Would I do what Atticus did? Would you risk being vilified for sticking to your principles? What if people said, as they hint to Atticus, that your children are suffering because of what you’re doing? What if a family member, such as Atticus’s brother Jack, argued it was wrong-headed and foolish of you to ruin your reputation over a forgettable incident with a predictable outcome?

That’s why it’s good to reread To Kill a Mockingbird now and againbecause the story reminds you that it isn’t easy to be a better human being, but it’s important for all of us to try.

You can learn more about Charles J. Shields at www.charlesjshields.net.  You can share your own remembrance of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by emailing us at ashley@ocbookshoppe.com.

 

The Ultimate Book Giveaway

Ultimate Book Giveaway Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Alright, so last year we had an amazing time getting ready for the Go Set a Watchman book release  on July 14th. Well, this year we would like to do something else big to give back to our loyal followers. So we have decided to give away a signed Go Set a Watchman Special Edition!

How you can win the Ultimate Book Giveaway

All we want you to do is sign up for our newsletter and like us on Facebook and share this on Facebook and on July 14th of this year we will give away a signed copy of Go Set a Watchman. It really is the Ultimate Book Giveaway! These are very limited and worth upwards of $2,000 so this giveaway is going to be pretty sweet for the lucky winner, but that’s not all…  You see, I am a goal setter and I want our little book store to grow just like anyone wants their small business to grow. So, on top of the Go Set a Watchman giveaway we are going to give away a signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird! That’s another $2,500 prize to a different winner. The books will be given to two separate people and all we want from  you is your help in getting the word out.

The Ultimate Book Giveaway: Our Goal

Now, the To Kill a Mockingbird giveaway comes with reaching a goal of  100k people subscribing to our newsletter, and 100k people liking us on Facebook. Now, I know this will be an easy task and we might do other giveaways if you blow it out of the water– so share this post with all your friends and family and don’t forget to join our newsletter by going to ocbookshoppe.com and signing up!

Also, please remember that we are a full service book store and if you cannot find something you’re looking for on our website, you can always give us a call and we can get it for you. If you do not have a local book store, we would love to be your local store no matter where you’re located. Our Shoppe is very small and each and everyone of our customers make a huge impact in our small community. Your orders from us have a very personal impact on our lives and the lives of our employees. You make a difference shopping with us and we appreciate you guys more than you can imagine.

Why the Ultimate Book Giveaway Means so much to us

When Go Set a Watchman came out last year, a lot of people thought we were a corporate-sized store with unlimited resources because we sold over 10,000 copies. The world soon found out the Book Shoppe is actually a 2,000 square foot house and each package was hand wrapped, stamped, and processed. We learned lot and we experienced some very real growing pains as a small business, but it was worth every moment.  Of course, it’s our desire to continue to serve you guys–to really be your hometown bookstore. So visit us online, in the store, or call us and let us know how we can help you today.

Remembering Harper Lee

Remembering Harper Lee

Remembering Harper LeeI was recently asked to share my thoughts in regards to remembering Harper Lee. Of course, I have written about her as much or more than any other blogger, and I suppose I knew this post was coming. My thoughts are not elegant, and they are likely not worthy of the author she was, but I have done my best these last few days to wrap my mind around a woman I never knew, yet one who’s done so very much to make me the writer I am… Here is my best attempt at remembering Harper Lee:

Not so very long ago in the grand scheme of things, I learned about a bookstore in a tiny, South Alabama town, and I fell a little bit in love.  The more I learned about Monroeville, Alabama, the more Monroeville felt like home.  It’s not—of course—I am little better than an outsider in Monroeville, but the impact this one, tiny town has had on my life is undeniable.  It captures me in a way that few other places on the planet ever have, and—from the outside looking in—a stranger could never fathom why.

Remembering Harper Lee: Hometown Literary Hero

Monroeville, AL, has the impressive distinction of Literary Capital of Alabama, and it has earned the moniker by being home to some true literary greats— Mark Childress, Truman Capote, the list seems almost limitless… but the crown jewel of Monroeville, the most extraordinary author who came from this place, of course, is Harper Lee, author of  To Kill a Mockingbird and the later released  Go Set a Watchman.

Remembering Harper Lee: Prevailing Impact on a Writer

We lost Harper Lee this year.  I had the bittersweet honor of writing the story that broke that news to the world.

You see, Harper Lee was the reason I ever found Monroeville on the map in the first place.  To Kill a Mockingbird had so impacted this place, this country, in fact, the entire globe, that a quest to write about the reclusive author led me there, both virtually and physically.  Monroeville was her home, and I was drawn to it.

Why did Harper Lee have such an impact on me?  Why did I want to write about her so much?  Perhaps it was because Harper Lee, whom I would come to think of as Miss Nelle (the moniker so lovingly used by the good folks of Monroeville), was a kindred spirit, separated by generations and terrain, but of the like mind that words can be used to set a path right, to make things better, and to generally stir the pot when the world gets too complacent.  Knowing she existed as she did, enjoying life modestly and dodging fanfare as much as possible, made me take stock of not only the reasons I write, but the fact that I write altogether.

Here’s the thing, and a confession: I’ve been something of a hack writer on occasion, and I write for profit to make ends meet.  I’m good at it, and it seems a good fit…as a single mother, every penny counts, and I’ve used my ability to write to survive. I’ve written about everything from lingerie to semi trucks—collected my paychecks and hurried along my way.

Nelle Harper Lee, and the OC Bookshoppe Project, made me slow down and consider the impact of my words, their value, perhaps to be more grateful for the gift that puts food on our table and buys new sneakers when the school year starts, and not to throw it completely away on product descriptions in catalogs and paragraphs that will grace the backs of after-school snack packaging… Nelle Harper Lee reminded me to write what matters.  In 1960, she published a volume with words that changed the world.  The book was based on what she knew best, the story life had given her to tell.  It has spurred me to look for writing material that matters, and –somewhere in the back of my mind—it has reminded me that I have my own story to tell.

Writing comes naturally to me… it always has, but the guidance I was given from an author I never met is a little bit of a miracle, because it has begun to shape my appreciation for writing altogether.  I still write product descriptions, I still edit whitepapers, I still create website content for companies that are trying to sell things, but –in addition to that—there is always at least one truly worthy project on my desk.  In fact, at this moment, there are two.  I am editing and revising one, and I am up to my elbows in the first draft of the other… these are pieces that will never live up to the standards of Mockingbird, but they may be as close as I come, and I believe that at least one soul on this planet who reads them will be a little better for it.

Remembering Harper Lee: Gifts and Inspiration

How do you thank someone who offered you inspiration to do better?  I honestly don’t know the answer to that, and I won’t get the opportunity in this lifetime, but if heaven is real, I plan to find Miss Nelle on the other side and hug her neck.  She gave me direction, and reminded me that writing is an art, and she put words back into my life when I’d almost forgotten how beautiful they could be.

Today, when I walk the streets of tiny Monroeville, AL, and soak up how much it feels like home, I realize that legacy has everything in the world to do with Miss Nelle and the words she wrote about this place.  I can’t express enough gratitude for that gift and the inspiration it has been to begin to tell my own story.

The Fan Art of To Kill a Mockingbird

The Fan Art of To Kill a Mockingbird

Fan Art of To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird is 54 years old.  That’s fifty-four years of influence that began with the novel, and perhaps grew to a pique with the movie, and was recently given a new face in the sequel (really an earlier draft of Mockingbird) that is Go Set a Watchman.  Through the years, both professional artists and novice fans have put art to story that Harper Lee brought to the world, and some of that artwork is simply exquisite.  As a writer and as a lover of good art, I could spend hours perusing the great pieces that came from the muse of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  It’s amazing how great art inspires, well, great art– thus, this blog post highlighting just some of the Fan Art of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Of course, this site is partial to Harper Lee, and because our store is based in her hometown, anything remotely Mockingbird captures our attention.  We’d like to share a few of the cool fan art and commercial art pieces we’ve discovered of late.  In that vein, we’ve created this online gallery– take a few minutes to check out some of the great artwork fans and students of one of the greatest American novels have created based on their love for the exceptional story that is beloved not only here in Monroeville, but around the world.  (Note that not every piece in the Gallery is fan art, we’ve added a few interesting professional pieces as well…) Of course, we’d love to add to the pieces in the slideshow below, so let us know if you stumble upon great  Mockingbird or Watchman fan art.

 

Fan Art of  To Kill a Mockingbird: Slideshow

Fan Art of To Kill a Mockingbird:  Open Call — Let us share your work!

Did you enjoy the Mockingbird  Fan Art slideshow?  Let us know your favorite pieces of Mockingbird-related artwork and why they appeal to you.  If you’re an artist, we’d love to share your  Mockingbird  art with our readers.  Please email ashley@ocbookshoppe.com to tell about your To Kill a Mockingbird  inspired creations.

Book Signing with Greg Neri, author of Tru and Nelle

ad161a1e14e94150-SWatts_Tru_Nelle_Jacket

ad161a1e14e94150-SWatts_Tru_Nelle_Jacket

We are so excited to announce that we will be having a book signing here at Ol’ Curiosities and Book Shoppe next week. Greg Neri, author of several middle grade and young adult novels, will be signing his most recent book, Tru & Nelle,  here at OCBS next Thursday, March 31st from 6 PM to 8 PM. Tru & Nelle is a fictional tale based on the childhood friendship of our very own Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee.

61PJU-i+URLAbout Tru & Nelle

Long before they became well known writers, two children met one day in Monroeville, Alabama. One was the daughter of a local lawyer; the other, a young boy whose gypsy parents left him with his adult cousins.

The two became fast friends.

Their names were Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote, Tru for short.

In the fictionalized story of the real-life childhood companionship of these two famous writers, young Tru and Nelle go on a Sherlock and Watson style mystery hunt to track down who is vandalizing buildings in town. More importantly, we get a glimpse again of Monroeville, Alabama, in the 1930s. And we get an idea of what young Tru and Nelle were like as children, long before In Cold Blood or To Kill A Mockingbird were ever thought of.

Excerpt:

When Truman first spotted Nelle, he thought she was a boy. She was watching him like a cat, perched on a crooked stone wall that separated their rambling wood homes. Barefoot and dressed in overalls with a boyish haircut, Nelle looked to be about his age, but it was hard for Truman to tell — he was trying to avoid her stare by pretending to read his book.

“Hey, you,” she finally said.

Truman gazed up from the pages. He was sitting quietly on a wicker chair on the side porch of his cousins’ house, dressed in a little white sailor suit.

“Are you . . . talking to me?” he said in a high wispy voice.

“Come here,” she commanded.

He straightened his little white suit and wandered slowly past the trellises of wisteria vines and japonica flowers until he came upon the stone wall.

Truman was taken aback. He scrunched up his face; he’d been confused by Nelle’s short hair and overalls. “You’re a . . . girl?”

Nelle stared back at him even harder. Truman’s high voice, white-blond hair, and sailor outfit had thrown her for a loop too.

“You’re a boy?” she asked, incredulous.

Photo by Edward Linsmier
Photo by Edward Linsmier

About Greg Neri

In addition to Tru & NelleGreg Neri is the author of several middle grade and young adult novels, including Ghetto Cowboy, and Hello, I’m Johnny Cash. Neri’s awards include a Coretta Scott King honor, and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award. Besides writing, Neri has experience as a filmmaker, animator/illustrator, and a digital media producer. Neri is a founding member of The Truth anti-smoking campaign as well.

Neri presently writes full time and lives in Florida with his wife and daughter.

 

If you are able to come, we would love to have you attend this book signing! If you would like, you can call us at 251-494-9356 or come by OCBS and reserve a copy of Tru & Nelle today. Then come back and join us next week and have your book signed and chat with Mr. Neri!

Please note: Any books ordered directly through the website prior to the event will not be signed, unless it is specified.

Thank you so much for all that you do! We truly appreciate each and every one of you!

The Candlelight Vigil: Forged Connections

Candlelight Vigil for Harper Lee
Candlelight Vigil for Harper Lee
Rabun Williams prepares to speak at the Harper Lee Candlelight Vigil in Monroeville

A week ago today, I found myself driving a road that was extraordinarily familiar, headed for a place I’d never been for a simple candlelight vigil.  I dialed my dad, “You could pick up Beedeville off the globe and drop it in the middle of this place and nobody would be the wiser,” I told him.  He laughed, “My kinda town.”  It was true.  The road that approached our tiny Arkansas hometown was, in many ways, a dead ringer for the one that brings the world to Monroeville, Alabama.

The Candlelight Vigil:  My Connection

The preceding week had been a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me.  Harper Lee, the beloved author of the American Classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird had passed away, and –in my capacity as a writer for the local bookstore in Monroeville– I had published the first the account to the world.  Now, I was approaching the town as a fan, come to pay my respects at a candlelight vigil to the Alabama writer that had changed my world in a hundred ways over the last twelve or so months.

Harper Lee was the reason I was writing again.  The articles I wrote about her, the publication of her latest book Go Set a Watchman, and even the town of Monroeville itself was part of the glue that held me together throughout some long and messy personal challenges during the previous year.  I was grateful not only for the books she’d written, but for the timeless messages that she gave all of us… messages I want my own children to read again and again: why honesty and integrity and justice matter more than prides and prejudices; how heroes fall and we must still love them in their humanity; that pen and paper can and will change the world.

Tonight, I would be a part of the candlelight vigil for this amazing woman.  I was grateful for the opportunity.

After changing at my hotel room into something I hoped was appropriate for such a memorial, I found Ol’ Curiosities and Book Shoppe without incident, and walked through the front door into a haven of comfortable sofas and towering bookshelves filled to the brim with vintage volumes of familiar and not so familiar titles, and found the owners, Spencer Madrie and Ann Mote, welcoming me in as though I were the neighbor next door.  I could spend hours here.  From the weathered siding on the building, to the walls so beautifully papered with pages from old novels, this place struck a chord in me.

Candlelight Vigil for Harper Lee
Visitors to OCBS gather to pay tribute to Harper Lee

The Candlelight Vigil:  In the Words of Rabun Williams

The next person I met was Rabun Williams, who’d be the keynote speaker for the evening. Mr. Williams was cordial and a bastion of knowledge of about the Old South and Monroeville in particular.  He was preparing to speak about Harper Lee and was organizing his thoughts concerning Mockingbird. The result was a fascinating and sincere eulogy:

We are here tonight to honor Miss Lee, to especially remember her for her tremendous contributions to literature. It’s entirely appropriate that this memorial takes place at a book store…  I thank Spencer and Ann for hosting this occasion.  They asked me to make just a few remarks about To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is a deservedly famous book.  It is deservedly on reading lists throughout this country.  You all are here because you love it, because you love those same things in it, which other people have mentioned on many occasions.  Many speakers and writers, more famous and insightful than I, remember it for its themes—the theme of justice and equality for all no matter who they may be in the courts of justice.  We remember it for the theme of tragedy, where there is injustice, when justice for all is forgotten… We honor it because it teaches us to have respect for others, others that may be very different… We remember it for what it teaches us about courage, that courage (as Atticus says) is not just a man with a gun…  Of course, we remember it for the theme that speaks to the time in which it was written—(that of) bigotry and prejudice, especially when bigotry and prejudice shows itself with regard to race…

Many other people have said these same things and yet we do not remember their books as lovingly…  It is so hard to call to mind a small town without falling into stereotypes, but Miss Lee did it…  In her hands… to use her own words from TKAM, it “ambles and shuffles” to life as a small Southern town in the depression and it does so without resorting to moonlight and magnolias, Southern Gothic melodrama, tobacco road trashiness… no without these things, she sets real people before us.  So many say, “I knew these people.”  That is part of her skill, that these characters are not cardboard characters…  She puts real words in their mouths.   Very few people have used Southern speech patterns with more clarity… or in a more masterly way than Ms. Lee.    From the pen of Miss Lee, (they all) become recognizable people.

One thing I really appreciate, is she trusts her readers… she does not over-explain.  She trusts her readers to work out what she means–even with historical figures now forgotten…

…and a truly overlooked part of her book: her wit.  This week, the local town historian, Mr. George Thomas Jones, recalls that Miss Lee said once that she simply wanted to be the Jane Austin of South Alabama.  In his column, he compares (Harper Lee) to her in various ways.  One thing (he overlooks) is what a witty writer Ms. Austin was, and so was Miss Lee.  I sometime laugh out loud, reading the familiar lines…she is witty not in a joking way… but in a truly subtle and remarkable way, her wit is woven into the story…

Mother and Son at Candlelight Vigil for Harper Lee
La Shannon Hollinger lights son Noah’s candle during the Harper Lee Candlelight vigil

It is also a book that we love to quote, and I’m sure that each one of you has his favorite quote of which I will mention only a very few of what occurred to me…

“Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall, they were like soft teacakes with frosting of sweat and sweet talc.”

“Remember, it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.”

“Nothing is more deadly than a deserted, waking street.”

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up.  Your father’s passing.”    

… and last, but certainly not least,

“Hey, Boo.”

It was this vocalization of appreciation to Harper Lee for a life well-lived, and –more importantly—a book well written that was offered up to those who gathered a week ago tonight at the Book Shoppe, candles in hand, to pay their respects to Nelle Harper Lee, just after dark in Monroeville, AL.

The Candlelight Vigil:  Creating a Kindred

Once the memorial had ended, the guitar that so expertly rendered Amazing Grace was muted, and candles were extinguished, patrons filed from the Ol ‘Curiosities lawn, into the Book Shoppe to escape the noticeably cooled atmosphere outside and to converse like old friends about the woman who penned the book that had brought them—no, us—all together.  Even the elderly town historian, George Thomas Jones of the Monroe Journal, mentioned earlier by Williams, ambled in on his cane after the basketball game had finished on TV for the night, sorry to have missed the meat of the candlelight vigil.  He spoke in detail about the good works of Harper Lee, of knowing her so well since third grade, of her affinity for New York, and the industry her book had become.

The crowd would disperse eventually, going their separate ways: a local mother who brought her son, a traveling retiree who made Monroeville a part of her pilgrimage due to its literary history, and a few die-hard fans who’d traveled from their homes elsewhere in the country.  Each of them left knowing more about the author and about each other than when they gathered earlier, a connection forged that would certainly linger– all because of one book, written right here, about right here… in Monroeville, AL.