I never really read as a kid, but I did watch movies, and one movie that impressed me was To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee was from Alabama. My parents were from Alabama. Harper’s first name is Nell (my mother’s first name). My parents lived in the racially divided south at the same time as Harper, and when I was a kid, that prejudiced world swirled through my Jacksonville, Florida, childhood. So the story world in the movie was something I could identify with. Years later, when I started reading, I came to Harper Lee’s book, and when I read the chapter where Scout first meets Boo, I actually teared up. It connected in such a strong way to my childhood, to my parents and Alabama, and to the scene in the movie (the pale Robert Duval as Boo) that something deep down was tugging at me.
As I grew as a reader and then a writer, I read Mockingbird repeatedly and tried to learn from it. I know it has its critics (Francine Prose wrote an essay about how how it simplified the world to cleanly for her tastes). Maybe it’s not high art (or is it?), but it does so much. Thankfully, PBS has produced an American Masters special on Harper Lee called Harper Lee: Hey, Boo. The documentary has interviews with Lee, friends, editors, and a who’s who of writers. The full documentary is playing on PBS stations now, and online. Click the picture of Harper Lee to watch.