Tuesday, July 14, 2015

'Mockingbird' alive in Harper Lee's hometown

            There's quite a stir happening today in Monroeville, Alabama, the hometown of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee. Walking tours, a marathon reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, storytelling and the release of Lee's latest book, Go Set a Watchman will all happen within the quaint streets of this southern Alabama town. (See schedule below.)
            Stick around for on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, the Monroe County Heritage Museum will host its annual program, Scenes and Stories of Monroeville:  A To Kill a Mockingbird Workshop in the Old Courthouse Museum at 31 N. Alabama Avenue from 9 a.m. to noon, discussing growing up with Harper Lee and race relations in the 1930s. Admission is free to the public and SARIC credit awarded to teachers. Seating is limited and pre-registration is recommended; contact Wanda Green at the Monroe County Heritage Museum at mchm@frontiernet.net or (251) 575-7433. 

Where it all began
            To glimpse into the history of the award-winning Mockingbird tale and its legendary author, visit Monroeville where you can enter the county courthouse and expect to find Atticus Finch sitting for the defense or hear Tom Robinson’s plea for justice. The 1903 courthouse in the center of town was the basis for both Lee’s famous courthouse scene and the Hollywood set used in the 1962 Oscar-winning film.
            Monroeville is Lee’s hometown and much of her book loosely reflects her personal experiences growing up as well as racial incidences that happened in the area. Lee lived along South Alabama Avenue, next door to the Faulks, cousins of writer Truman Capote, who visited often and considered Monroeville one of the highlights of his youth. Lee and Capote played in her backyard tree house and the child character of  “Dill” in Mockingbird is said to have been based on Capote.
            The courthouse today houses the Monroe County Heritage Museums, offering rotating exhibits, a history of the area and comprehensive displays on both Lee and Capote. Every spring a play version of To Kill a Mockingbird by Christopher Sergel is performed on the courthouse lawn to an audience of about 250. Act I occurs outside in three sets, then moves inside the courthouse for Act II, which is the trial of Tom Robinson. The audience follows, watching the trial as if they are participants. For more information, visit www.tokillamockingbird.com.
            Other literary reasons to visit Monroeville include the Alabama Writers Symposium at Alabama Southern Community College, held in the spring about the same time as the play, and Beehive Coffee & Books, a quaint independent bookstore off the square that features local authors and specialty coffees in a restored 1930s building.
            Visitors can pick up a walking tour that explains Monroeville of the 1930s, when Lee and Capote were children. Many of the historic sites are gone, including both authors’ childhood homes, but there are still sites to take in, such as the Monroe County Library, once the LaSalle Hotel where Gregory Park stayed gathering information for his character of Atticus Finch.
             For information on Monroeville, visit www.monroecountyal.com.

Did you know?
            Monroe County, Alabama, exists along the historic El Camino corridor that eventually heads to Natchez, Miss., and on over to Natchitoches and Texas. The county was one of the earliest settlements of Alabama pioneers after the Creek Wars.
            Harper Lee’s father, A.C. Lee, was a lawyer who practiced in Monroeville and a model for her character of Atticus Finch.
            Not only did the courthouse inspire Lee for To Kill a Mockingbird, but the courthouse clock appears in Capote’s A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor.
            Mel’s Dairy Dream now exists where Lee’s house once stood and Capote’s cousin’s home is gone as well. However, pieces of the brick wall surrounding the Faulk home remain, next to a historical marker.
            The film version was adapted by Horton Foote, of which he won an Oscar.
            To Kill a Mockingbird was Lee’s only novel and she has given little publicity since 1964.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is the author of "Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History," "Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana" and "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" and co-author of "Magic's in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets." She also writes Louisiana romances under Cherie Claire, including "A Cajun Dream" and "The Letter." Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

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