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.

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.

Black History Month and To Kill A Mockingbird: A look at Tom Robinson and Calpurnia

To Kill a Mockingbird

As many of you know, February is black history month. Race and discrimination are major themes in the literary classic To Kill A Mockingbird. Although it was set several years prior to when it was released, TKAM also came into publication at an important time in history: right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement.

Set in a small southern town, and featuring an African American male on trial for assaulting a white female, with a white male serving as counsel for the accused, Harper Lee painted a detailed portrait of what racial discrimination looked like in the South at that time.

February  is Black History Month, so I decided to take a further look at the two dominant African American characters in TKAM: Tom Robinson and Calpurnia, the Finch’s housekeeper.

Tom Robinson

Atticus Finch fighting discriminationTom Robinson is the young African American man who is accused of attacking and raping Mayella Ewell, a young white woman from one of the not so popular families in Maycomb. However, TKAM is set in the 1930s and in a small southern town at that, so naturally the town is divided by race, and each takes up for his own kind. However it ends up being a white man, none other than Atticus Finch, who is Tom Robinson’s lawyer in the trial.

Out of the two, Tom is the African American who is portrayed more negatively in TKAM. Yes, Atticus defends him and even clearly points out his innocence, but because of the geographical location and the time period, poor Tom was assumed guilty by the majority of the white population of Maycomb before he even set foot in the courtroom.In the movie edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson was played by Brock Peters.

In the novel, Tom’s physical introduction is not made until the day of the trial. There are many speculations about why this is; however there are two explanations that make the most sense. TKAM is told through Scout’s point of view and she doesn’t actually see Tom Robinson herself until the day of the trial. The second reason, is because of Tom’s disability. It is not made public until the trial, in hopes that this will prove Tom’s innocence.

Although Tom isn’t physically present in the book until the day of the trial, we learn about him and what has happened a few chapters prior. Scout first hears about Tom and what he is accused of when she and Jem have to attend church with Calpurnia one Sunday. The church takes up what is referred to these days as a love offering for Helen Robinson, Tom’s wife, since she was unable to work after Tom’s arrest and had three children to care for.

“Cal, I know Tom Robinson’s in jail an’ he’s done somethin’ awful, but why won’t folks hire Helen?” I asked.

“It’s because of what folks say Tom’s done,” she said.

This is the first Scout hears about what Tom’s been accused of. Naturally, at her young age, Scout has no idea what rape means. When she questions Calpurnia about, the housekeeper advises her to ask her father, but Scout forgets until later in the story.

In another instance, the readers do not “see” Tom, but we “hear” him speak a few days before the trial. In what is perhaps one of my favorite scenes from the book, Atticus is guarding the jail house one night, because word has gotten out that several town men may try to harm Tom while he is in jail. Scout, Jem and Dill are curious so they sneak out and go to spy on Atticus. It is then that they witness Atticus’s attempt to prevent a potential lynch mob from getting to Tom. The children intervene and it is young Scout that ends up being the voice of reason. After the crowd leaves, and its only Atticus, Scout, Jem and Dill standing outside the jail, we hear Tom speak from the window.

“Mr. Finch?”

A soft husky voice came from the darkness above: “They gone?”

Atticus stepped back and looked up. “They’ve gone,” he said. “Get you some sleep, Tom. They won’t bother you any more.”

At the trial, the reader finally gets to see Tom, through Scout’s eyes. Tom is soft-spoken and well-mannered. He is portrayed by a former employee as a hard worker and honest man. He is portrayed by Bob and Mayella Ewell as a monster. During the trial Atticus makes a point of having all witnesses confirm Mayella was beat up on the right side of her face, meaning she was hit by someone left-handed. His reasoning behind this becomes clear when Atticus asks Tom to stand up. Tom suffered an injury when he was younger that left his left hand crippled, making what he was being accused of physically impossible for him to have done.

But life isn’t fair, and it most certainly was not fair to Tom Robinson, when he is found guilty of a crime that he didn’t commit. Rather than dying in prison doing time for a crime he didn’t commit, he decides to try to escape and is shot dead in the process.

“I guess Tom was tired of white men’s chances and decided to take his own.”

 

Calpurnia

1932765_744904538875547_325558407_oCalpurnia is the housekeeper for the Finch family and acts as a sort of mother figure to Scout and Jem since their own mother passed away when they were younger. Atticus thinks very highly of Calpurnia and the children respect her. She is portrayed mostly in a positive light. However, since the reader is seeing Calpurnia through Scout’s point of view, in the beginning Scout paints her in an “evil stepmother” type of light.

Calpurnia was something else and again. She was all angles and bones; she was nearsighted; she squinted; her hand was wide as a bed slat and twice as hard. She was always ordering me out of the kitchen, asking me why I couldn’t behave as well as Jem when she knew he was older, and calling me home when I wasn’t ready to come. Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side. She had been with us ever since Jem was born, and I had felt her tyrannical presence for as long as I could remember.

Of course, as readers we understand that Calpurnia is hard on Scout out of love, and plays a key role in the discipline of the Finch children, with their mother being deceased and their father working. It isn’t much later in the story that Calpurnia’s softer side is revealed, which confuses Scout, who is still too young to understand that Calpurnia treats her the way she does because she cares.

Calpurnia bent down and kissed me. I ran along, wondering what had come over her. She had wanted to make up with me, that was it. She had always been too hard on me, she had at last seen the error of her fractious ways, she was sorry and too stubborn to say so.

Another trait we observe in Calpurnia is her ability to adapt to her surroundings. Now, other people have gone so far as to criticize this behavior, saying that Calpurnia acted one way at the Finch household, then acted completely opposite when she is around people of color. That is true, however, the way I see it is as I mentioned before: she was adapting to her surroundings. She was a colored housekeeper for a white family. However, with a working father and deceased mother, she took on a larger role than a lot of women of her trade did back then. In that case, she “acted white” when she cared for the Finch, as far as her speech and mannerisms went. Then, when she is around other colored people, she takes on the speech and mannerisms they do, as displayed when she takes the Finch children to church with her.

When Aunt Alexandra comes to stay at the Finch household, she and Cal butt heads, so to speak, on her methods of discipline and caring for the children. However, Atticus does not complain. He approves of Calpurnia’s approach, mainly because it is a lot like his own. As a reader, I felt that a lot of life lessons that Scout and Jem learned came form Calpurnia, just as frequently as they came from Atticus.

What are your thoughts on Tom and Calpurnia? We would love to hear from you!

Tickets for To Kill a Mockingbird, the play, on sale soon!

Mockingbird Players Amphitheater, To Kill a Mockingbird Play
Monroe County Heritage Museum Sign
Monroe County Heritage Museum

Aside from the book To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harper Lee herself, another thing Monroeville is widely known for is their yearly production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The play is performed by local members of the community, at the old Monroe County Courthouse. Performances begin in April and run through May. The first act of the play is performed outside on the Courthouse lawn; the second act is performed inside the old Monroe County Courthouse, in the court room.

Ticket Information

 

Tickets for the TKAM play will go on sale March 1st (next Tuesday!) All tickets are general admission, with open seating. Ticket price is $50 (plus fees). All performances start at 7:00 pm, with seating beginning at 6:30 pm. The duration of the play is two hours. In the event of bad weather, the full play will take place inside. You can purchase tickets online, however if you have a group larger than fifty people, please call 251-743-3386 to purchase tickets.

There are no refunds given for unused tickets. However, tickets may be returned for a donation to the Mockingbird Company if they are not able to be used. It is asked that no cameras be used or filming of any kind be done during the performance. Also, large handbags are not preferred because seating is often tight. If you are a white male over the age of 18, please be advised that you may be selected for jury duty and will be asked to sit with the jury during the trial scene.

Performance Schedule

Performances will be held on the following dates. Again, all performances will start at 7:00 pm, with seating starting at 6:30 pm.

Friday, April 15
Saturday, April 16
Friday, April 22
Friday, April 29
Saturday, April 30
Friday, May 6
Saturday, May 7
Friday, May 13
Saturday, May 14
Friday, May 20
Saturday, May 21
A special performance of TKAM will be held on Saturday, April 23rd. Ticket prices for the special performance are $75 (plus fees). After this special performance, attendees of  are invited to have drinks and hors d’oeuvres on the lawn, and will have the opportunity to mingle with the TKAM cast and crew.

A History of the Play

The first stage adaption of TKAM was presented in Monroeville, Alabama in November of 1991. Monroe County Heritage Museum Director Kathy McCoy had the idea to present the play as a way to raise money for renovations for the old courthouse. The first performance was only one act and held in the old courtroom.

This first performance was embraced positively, and the next year the play was presented in May. In 1996, the amateur actors who presented the play (now known as the Mockingbird Players) took the performance internationally. They performed the play at the Israel International Cultural Festival in Jerusalem to a sold out audience. In 1998, the Mockingbird players traveled internationally again. This time it was to Kingston Upon Hull, England and they performed at and lead an Alabama Cultural Symposium. The group traveled again in 2000, this time within the states, to present the play in Washington, D.C. They performed the play for Congress, and also sold out crowds at the Kennedy Center. The Mockingbird players returned to Kingston Upon Hull in 2004. In 2005, TKAM was performed at the Museum of Cultural Arts in Chicago, Illinois. The most recent non-local performance was in 2012 at the Hong Kong Asia Center.

Have you seen the play? Will you be attending this year? What are your thoughts? We would love to hear from you!

 

Black Belt Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Luncheon

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On January 29th, 2016 a luncheon was held inducting two new members into the Black Belt Hall of Fame. The luncheon was held at the Bell Conference Center at The University of West Alabama, located in Livingston, Alabama. The purpose of the Black Belt Hall of Fame is to bring recognition to and honor individuals who are associated with the Black Belt region and have had an influential impact on the region, State, nation, and the world through their contributions of art, business, education, industry, medicine, politics and science.

The 2016 honorees were Dr. Wayne Flynt and Nelle Harper Lee. Dr. Flynt and his family were there for his induction, and a small group of family and friends of Ms. Lee were there to accept the induction on her behalf, since she was not able to attend.

The Luncheon

The luncheon began with a welcome from Dr. Tim Edwards, provost of The University of West Alabama, followed by an invocation led by local minister, Rev. Barrett Abernethy from the First Presbyterian Church of Livingston. Then a buffet style lunch was served. As lunch was winding down, Ms. Amy Christiansen, archivist at The University of West Alabama presented the 2016 inductees.

Dr. Wayne Flynt

Dr. Wayne Flynt was born on October 4, 1940 in Pontotoc, Mississippi. He attended Howard College and received both an MS and PhD from Florida State University. He taught at Samford University for twelve years and then became a member of the faculty of Auburn University. He has been an instructor there for twenty-eight years and has become a distinguished Professor Emeritus. Dr. Flynt has written and co-authored twelve books, including Dixie’s Forgotten People, Alabama Baptists, Alabama in the Twentieth Century and a personal memoir entitled Keeping the Faith. Dr. Flynt was the first editor for the Encyclopedia of Alabama, which is an online publication. He has received numerous awards, including: the Lillian Smith Book Award, the Clarence Cason Book Award, the Clarence Cason Award in Nonfiction Writing, two Alabama Literary Association awards, two James F. Sulzby awards, the Judson-Rice Award and an induction into the Alabama Academy of Honor.

Dr. Flynt’s induction was introduced by Nancy Anderson, retired English professor at Auburn University at Montgomery, and long time friend of Flynt. Then Dr. Flynt gave his speech, and his induction plaque was unveiled by Ms. Christiansen.

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Dr. Wayne Flynt, and OCBS employee Kristen Chandler

Nelle Harper Lee

Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama on April 28, 1926. She has had a huge literary impact on Alabama, America and the world. She attended Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama. Lee then moved from Alabama to New York to pursue her writing career. It was in New York that she wrote and later in 1960, published her literary treasure, To Kill A Mockingbird. Lee received a Pulitzer Prize for her debut novel and it has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Lee also wrote Go Set A Watchman in 1956, but it was not published until 2015. Watchman was at one time intended to be the first novel in a trilogy. She has also written several short stories and essays, including “Christmas to Me.” Ms. Lee’s awards include the Presidential Award of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts.

Dr. Wayne Flynt, fellow inductee and long time friend of Ms. Lee, introduced the induction of Lee. At the time of this luncheon, Ms. Lee was still alive but unable to attend an event so far from home. Ms. Lee’s nephew, Herschel H. “Hank” Lee made the induction speech in Lee’s honor, telling not only of her great achievements but memories he had of Nelle and Alice, from his own childhood. Ms. Lee’s plaque was then unveiled.

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Friends and family of Nelle Harper Lee with her plaque
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The induction plaque for the 2016 induction of Nelle Harper Lee into the Black Belt Hall of Fame

Dr. Tina Naremore Jones, Executive Director of The Division of Economic Development and Outreach gave the closing remarks. Dr. Flynt had a table set up with his books, available for purchase, after the luncheon. Ol’ Curiosities and Book Shoppe was honored to be asked to have a table selling various editions of To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman on behalf of Ms. Lee.

Did you attend the Black Belt Hall of Fame luncheon? Do you know anyone that has been previously inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame? We would love to hear your thoughts!