It occurred to me recently that I needed to reread To Kill a Mockingbird. When a story pricks the conscience of a culture like this one does and when it stays in the forefront of classic literature like this one has, it deserves more than one read in a lifetime. As I revisited the story my curiosity about the author, Harper Lee, began to grow and I started to investigate how she came to write one of the most beloved and influential novels of all time.
I happen to love backstory. With any book I read I want to know the author, their personal history, and what motivated them to write. This lends texture and depth to my experience as a reader. It helps me know the perspective from which the writer writes – their posture as it relates to the book. Often you will find little treasures and serendipities along the way, and so it was with To Kill a Mockingbird.
Harper Lee was a Southern girl from the tiny town of Monroeville, Alabama. She moved to New York in the early 1950’s in hopes of starting a writing career. She worked for several years as an airline ticket clerk. Her childhood friend, Truman Capote, had asked a young couple to befriend her on her arrival to New York, knowing that the little Alabama lass would be feeling a bit out of place in a big city the likes of New York.
“To a displaced Southerner, Christmas in New York can be a rather melancholy occasion,” reflected Harper Lee in an essay for McCall’s Magazine after her novel had been received with such ovation. Harper had been invited to spend Christmas 1956 with her closest friends, Joy and Michael Brown, the couple Truman had introduced her to. Harper had grown to love the Browns, spending many evenings and weekends in their company. The Browns knew of Harper’s deep desire to write and had read some character sketches and short stories she had written. What happened that Christmas changed the course of literary history and made possible the seemingly impossible.
Mr. Brown was a composer who had just finished a successful show in December 1956. He had a little extra money as a result, so he and his wife hatched a plan. On Christmas morning they had an envelope waiting for Harper on the tree. She opened it and read these words, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas!” to which she muttered through her astonishment, “It’s a fantastic gamble. It’s such a great risk.” Without hesitation Michael, with Joy’s full support said, “No honey, it’s a sure thing.” Later Michael said, “I knew if she could get her work seen then, she would have it!”
“Our faith in you is really all I heard them say. I would do my best not to fail them,” said Harper in an interview years later – and my, how she succeeded! The Pulitzer Prize winning author had no inkling how well loved and received her book would be when she set out that year to do right by the Browns, her benefactors.
The power of believing in someone – this is Goodness at its core. What can be wrought on earth through the power of faith expressed – faith delivered to a soul in need? I cannot think of a more valuable commodity to the creative heart. The power of confidence in another’s dream lends strength and spirit to the dreamer. It transforms a hope into a possibility. It makes the impossible seem possible.
Who in your life could benefit from your confidence? Do your children know you believe in them? Does your spouse feel the strength of your support? You have a chance to change the world. You have the power to change someone’s life forever – simply by lending them your confidence. This confidence must be true and come from your core, but if you have it – for the sake of a better world, be sure to share it. It is this faith that gave us the heartfelt story of Goodness that is Harper Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird.
Have you ever considered the power of believing in someone's dream? Listen to the story of how a couple's faith changed literary history.