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“You can go to France and mention Boo Radley, and people will know who you mean.”
To Kill a Mockingbird fan
Today is Harper Lee’s birthday, so let’s ponder her greatest triumph for a moment. Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird became an instant bestseller and classic. Over the past 54 years, it has sold more than 40 million copies and probably been handed on to many millions more readers around the world. It remains one of the most the most widely respected and beloved works of American literature. Harper’s memory and words live on in the immortal characters she created. While her second book, Go Set a Watchman, created a global event when it was published, it is for To Kill a Mockingbird that Harper Lee will be remembered and revered.
Among many tributes Harper’s garnered, former President Obama’s is especially touching:
“When Harper Lee sat down to write To Kill a Mockingbird, she wasn’t seeking awards or fame. She was a country girl who just wanted to tell an honest story about life as she saw it.
“But what that one story did, more powerfully than one hundred speeches possibly could, was change the way we saw each other, and then the way we saw ourselves. Through the uncorrupted eyes of a child, she showed us the beautiful complexity of our common humanity, and the importance of striving for justice in our own lives, our communities, and our country.
“Ms. Lee changed America for the better. And there is no higher tribute we can offer her than to keep telling this timeless American story–to our students, to our neighbors, and to our children–and to constantly try, in our own lives, to finally see each other.”
How amazing to think that one story told with narrative energy, humor, and honesty can have such staying power and emotional impact. So often, we worry about whether we are writing enough and whether what we are writing really matters. And yet, there are so many authors known the world over largely for one amazing, life-changing book.
Harriet Beecher Stowe springs to mind: She was a prolific writer of stories and essays, yet she is best remembered for Uncle Tom’s Cabin — a novel that, like Mockingbird, became an instant bestseller, and is widely viewed as having played a huge role in galvanizing public opinion about the inhumanity of slavery. Then there’s The Awakening by Kate Chopin and Moby Dick by Herman Melville, both of which languished until rediscovered.
So let’s not worry about how much we are producing — let’s just make whatever we send out into the world the best it can be. Let Harper hel us to be bold and steadfast. If we end up being one-hit wonders, who cares? One beloved book like Mockingbird can touch millions and transform us into beloved authors — surely a satisfying legacy. Write on!