I attended an event tonight at Symphony Space to celebrate Harper Lee’s birthday and the influence “To Kill a Mockingbird” has had on the American psyche for the past 50 years. Panelists included Authors and actors: Libba Bray (award winning young-adult novelist Going Bovine, winner of 2010 Printz Award), Oskar Eustis (Artistic Director at The Public Theater), Kurt Andersen (novelist and Studio 360 Host) ,Jayne Anne Phillips (novelist and National Book Award finalist Lark & Termite), filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy (author of the upcoming book Scout, Atticus, and Boo) & Stephen Colbert (who let’s be honest is the only panelist I really cared about). The highlight of the evening was Stephen reading a chapter from the book.
The panelists discussed how the book affected their lives and the way they thought it had affected America. Oskar Eustis shared an anecdote about of a little girl he fancied and how she said “I want to marry a man like Atticus Finch”. Oskar went on to say that the Atticus Finch standard has made him feel inadequate as a man and after having kids, an inadequate father. He said this jokingly of course, but like most jokes there was a sad sad truth behind it. Atticus is not your typical hero. He isn’t overly militant, he is understated and determined. He does what’s right because it is right and doesn’t make a show about it. He is wise, generous, humble & compassionate. With his kids he is patient, honest, and tries to instill in them good values by example. I want to echo Oskar’s girl’s statement. I want to marry a man like Atticus Finch too!
The panel discussed Harper Lee and the mystery surrounding why she never wrote again. Today (April 28th) is Harper Lee’s 84th birthday. She has rarely done interviews or made appearances. I think the general consensus was that she never wrote again because she could never live up to the anticipation. To Kill a Mockingbird was too much of a success for her to write anything again. I guess we’ll never know. Personally I think she is more than happy with the masterpiece she has contributed to American literature.
I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in 4th grade. My mom took us to the library almost every week and it was on one of these excursions that I stumbled upon and into the world of Scout Finch. I think even at that age I was able to glean so much about what integrity looked like, what justice was, how entrenched social constructs were hard to change but it didn’t mean you shouldn’t try if they were wrong.
I love this book. I loved the movie too. Thank you Harper Lee for giving us Atticus, Scout, Jem, Dill & Boo. Happy Birthday.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
– spoken by Atticus Finch, by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird