“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
IN MEMORY OF HARPER LEE.
While I will never say that To Kill A Mockingbird was one of my favorite books, I will say this: Harper Lee was a literary genius, a great American Classic author whose book was one of the first to truly challenge the racism of Southern segregation. She captured the minds of many, if not through her one true book, then through the wonderful things she said throughout the course of her lifetime.
Near the end of her life, there is evidence to support the fact that Harper Lee was exploited by her lawyer, Tonja Carter, and her publishers, culminating in the publication of her first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird, called Go Set A Watchman.
While I am saddened by the denial of Harper Lee’s rights to her intellectual property and privacy, I am doubly saddened by the fact that the world has lost yet another one of its ‘greats’ this year. Lee died today in Monroeville, Alabama, where she was born.
To me, Harper Lee was a living piece of history. Born just before the onset of the Great Depression, she lived through the greatest economic and social crises in American history. Lee was alive to see the Democratic Party swing around from the white, anti-Reconstruction supremacist group they were in the decades following the Civil War to the diverse, multi-ethnic, Progressive party that pitched Presidents like FDR and Barack Obama. Lee was born when black children could not go to white schools, and died during the last year of the last term of the first black president of the United States.
More than anything, Lee herself became a classic. To those of us like me, born just as the historically magical 1900s ended, whose lifetimes did not intersect with those of Ernest Hemingway or Ralph Ellison or J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee was one of the last of the American literary greats. Unlike Hemingway, or Ellison, or Salinger, Lee was a tangible thing, somebody we could believe that we would meet in person one day. When Lee published Go Set A Watchman, however coerced or confused she may have been, she became the American literary great that published a book during our lifetimes.
Today, Harper Lee (and her contemporary Umberto Eco) join David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Justice Antonin Scalia on the already too-long list of artists and intellectuals the world has lost in 2016. But as Lee herself told us, “Things are never as bad as they seem.”
Oh, Harper Lee. The world does miss you.