Happy Birthday, Harper Lee!

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye
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!

Interview with Greg Neri, author of Tru & Nelle

Photo by Edward Linsmier

Next week, we are fortunate enough to be having Greg Neri, author of the book Tru & Nelle, stop by for a book signing while he is in town for the Alabama Writer’s Symposium. I was able to get a brief interview with Mr. Neri, through email, so our readers will get to know a little bit about him before he visits Monroeville next week. Then hopefully some of you will be able to meet him in person as well!

A little bit about Greg Neri

Photo by Edward Linsmier
Photo by Edward Linsmier

OCBS: Tell us a little about yourself and your background. How do you think your upbringing affected you as an author?

Neri: I was a quiet kid, an outsider, an observer of life, and a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. All that found a kinship with young Truman and Nelle.

OCBS: Have you always wanted to be a writer? If not, what else did you consider as a career and why?

Neri: I came to writing late in life. I was a filmmaker and digital media producer for a while, but did workshops with schools in hard hit areas on the side. Working with kids and hearing their stories eventually led me to writing about and for them.

OCBS: What inspired you to write your most recent novel, Tru & Nelle?

Neri: The day after Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away, I found myself watching his movie, Capote. And there, on screen, was Truman with Harper Lee (!) trying to solve a small town crime with his old pal from childhood. That got me curious. What was their childhood like and what was it about Monroeville that produced two of our greatest writers? When I found out that they were just a couple of misfits who pretended to be Sherlock and Watson solving small town mysteries as kids, I was hooked. That, and seeing how many of the events from their upbringing directly inspired To Kill a Mockingbird and many of Truman’s stories and that nobody had really tackled their friendship for kids before.

Neri on Writing

OCBS: You take an actual event and then spin it into a fictional masterpiece. How do you choose what to write? What does your writing process look like?

Neri: Wow, thank you. I’d have to say I don’t choose what to write, it chooses me. Every one of my books is inspired by something I accidentally stumbled across and couldn’t believe it was real. I’ve had books come out of a school visit in St. Louis, from talking to a distant cousin at a Christmas party, from coming across a photograph of a horse in the inner city, or reading a handwritten note from Johnny Cash. Seeing Truman at 8 years old in his little white suit and imagining him opposite Nelle in her overalls and bare feet solving crime as junior detectives is something too good to pass up. They were the ultimate odd couple.

OCBS: What advice can you offer aspiring authors?

Neri: Give yourself permission to write badly in that first draft. Your job is to get all that information crammed in your skull out onto paper so you can see what you have to work with. Don’t edit yourself, let it fly– good, bad or indifferent. It’s about momentum. Later, you’ll make it sing.
OCBS: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

Neri: I have given myself up to completely to follow my gut and listen to what the story is telling me, not the other way around. It’s a scary proposition sometimes but it has led to a series of books I could not have possibly predicted.

The Children are Our Future

OCBS: Your books are geared more toward middle grade and young adult. Tell us a little about the involvement you have had with school visits and your past work with inner city kids.

Neri: My connection with kids drives my whole effort. I am inspired by them and relate to those who are outsiders or have insurmountable odds to overcome. I try to represent their stories and their voices in my work. I hope my stories expand everyone’s knowledge of what is happening all around them that they may not see. Kids need to know that they are not alone. My books are realistic and deal with tough issues sometimes. But they are also hopeful.

OCBS: What advice would you give to your younger self?

Neri: Don’t be so shy. Speak up more. Know that you have worth.

One Last Thing……

OCBS: What do you want your readers to know about you?

Neri: That life is about having as many different kinds of experiences as possible. I try to say yes to any new experience. That has taken me to Russia, allowed me to live in Berlin, led me to places I never would have gone, and to people I never would have met. My life is so much richer for that. And that is why I am coming to Monroeville!

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Well, that was fun and informative! We hope as many of you as possible can come to the signing next Thursday night. Have you read Tru & Nelle? Have you read any other books by Greg Neri? What are your thoughts?

 

Book Signing with Greg Neri, author of Tru and Nelle

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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!

Mary McDonagh Murphy’s Scout, Atticus & Boo

Scout, Atticus, & Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy
Scout, Atticus, & Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy
Scout, Atticus, & Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy

Mary McDonagh Murphy compiled the interviews that compose Scout, Atticus, & Boo after completing her documentary, Hey Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird. It seemed that just too much material wouldn’t make its way into the film, and Murphy couldn’t bear for the material to end up on the cutting room floor. Those who have read Scout, Atticus & Boo are certainly glad she made that decision.

Mary McDonagh Murphy’s Interviews

Scout, Atticus & Boo includes 26 interviews with notable people who have been influenced by Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Some are those interviews are with those who had written about the novel previously. Wally Lamb and Scott Turow both weigh in on how Mockingbird has influenced the world.  Mark Childress, an author born in Monroeville, Alabama, also expresses wonderful sentiments both about the book and his own quest to get to know Harper Lee better.

Murphy also had the honor of interviewing Alice Lee, the protective older sister of Nelle Harper Lee. Alice Lee practiced law well into her 90s and was her sister’s constant companion for many years. Alice’s life and story are phenomenal in their own right, but intertwined with information about her talented sister, they are a must-read for the Harper Lee fan.

Mary McDonagh Murphy
Mary McDonagh Murphy

Others who were interviewed include the likes of Oprah Winfrey, James Patterson, Tom Brokaw, Rosanne Cash and Jon Meacham. Each interviewee offers up instances of where they were when they first read the novel, why they first cracked its cover, or what it has meant to them—often since childhood. One common thread found through Scout, Atticus & Boo is that readers of the novel, famous and infamous, read To Kill a Mockingbird again and again, and find new lessons and points each and every time they do. This is a book that draws communities closer, bridges gaps between generations and continues to teach goodness and kindness to those who daily join the readership that makes up Mockingbird’s fanbase.

The Interview You’ll Miss

One interview that sadly did not make it into the book. Mary McDonagh Murphy interviewed Joy and Michael Brown, the couple introduced to Lee by Truman Capote who gifted the young writer a year off work to pursue writing, as the couple agreed to the interview only after Scout, Atticus & Boo was published. (This interview is included in McDonagh’s documentary.)

Scout, Atticus, and Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy at Ol' Curiosities and Book Shoppe
Scout, Atticus, and Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy at Ol’ Curiosities and Book Shoppe

Mary McDonagh Murphy Answers Questions about Inspiration and Writing

In addition to the interviews in the book, Murphy herself has answered a few questions—specifically how she came up with the idea for Scout, Atticus, & Boo and what she has been most surprised to learn during the process of interviewing her subjects. We also learn about the public’s reaction to the work, and some interesting trivia about To Kill a Mockingbird.

If you’ve read Scout, Atticus & Boo, let us know which interviews you enjoyed best and why. Who else would you like to have interviewed about Mockingbird and how do you think it has impacted him or her?