My dog’s name is Scout. My roommate’s girlfriend’s cat is Atticus. I had an old flame who lived with a cat named Boo Radley-- but I never saw him. My oldest nephew just told me last month that he had read To Kill a Mockingbird in class, and that he had really liked it. He told me it’s not like other books, and he’s right.

I know of nothing that my generation, this wayward centennial generation, is more obsessed with than Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, so on this day I choose to celebrate her birth as if it were my own. Today Harper Lee turns 89.

Harper Lee Smokes

Lee is a Pulitzer Prize winner. She holds the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of the Arts, and my whole entire heart. You see, even though I’m a Kards Unlimited and Pittsburgh expat-- I’m really not much more than a little country girl. I’m sitting cross-legged and barefoot on my porch as I write this post. That’s exactly how I picture her, actually. Cross-legged and barefoot, sitting in a tiny New York City apartment, plodding through draft after draft after draft of what eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird. Her friends guiding this quiet, strong Alabama girl through the world of publishing, supporting her financially because she was building something that the knew even in those early days would stand, perhaps, forever. (I suggest reading Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields, by the way, it is the most dynamic piece of writing on a single person I think I have ever stumbled upon.)

HL 4

Though she has but one novel published, to date, with her name on it, her hand is not invisible in the literary world. Her voice has always been timid in the public eye, a soft and thoughtful letter here, a luncheon with students there… This prudence is exactly what she brought to Kansas with her when helping Truman Capote research the truths in the true crime novel In Cold Blood, and what many say saved it from Capote’s somewhat irritable and brash nature (of course this coarseness is understandable, given the juxtaposition of his flamboyant and liberal ideals and the tiny, conservative town in which they embedded themselves for the project).

Harper Lee

This quiet woman who shied so aggressively from the public eye is perhaps the strongest voice that my generation clings to as we wade through our own personal Monroevilles, navigating the racism new and old that still exists today, the all-encompassing roles that class and gender play in our lives, our loss of innocence, and how all of these things push and pull on one another.

So here’s to you, Nelle. You wrote the book that I swear upon, even though the cover is long gone and the pages are tattered. Wherever this day finds you, I hope it’s full of birdsong.

HL 33

“Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

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So, what do you think?