Featured Author: Harper Lee

We’ve had a featured book in the past, but what about those people who write the books? We often love the works that they put out for us to enjoy, but how much do we really know about them. Sometimes we know a lot (like they were movie stars), and other times we barely know anything about them. This time we will be looking at a woman who is putting out her second book after 55 years, Nelle Harper Lee.

Biography

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Just like her character Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird, she was the youngest child of a lawyer father in the state of Alabama. She was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, AL. She grew up friends with another future author, Truman Persons aka Truman Capote. After graduating high school, she went to Huntingdon College in Alabama for a short while, then transferred to the University of Alabama. At UA, she chose to pursue her interest in writing by contributing to the university’s newspaper and humor magazine. She then dropped out of school and moved to New York City, where she befriended Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown and his wife Joy. The two decided to support Lee for a whole year so she could devote herself to writing full time. They also helped her find and agent, Maurice Crain. Lee and Crain worked together and got a publishing firmed interested in her first book, Go Set a Watchmen (which was eventually renamed and reworked to To Kill a Mockingbird).

1966, Holcomb, Kansas --- Truman Capote signing copies of his book  with Harper Lee.  Capote and Lee are in Kansas during  the making of the film of the same name.   --- Image by © Steve Schapiro/Corbis
Harper Lee and Truman Capote- Image by © Steve Schapiro/Corbis

Before the publication of her first novel, she began working with Truman Capote on an article he was writing about the murders of Herbert Clutter, his wife, and two children. The two traveled to Kansas to do interviews with friends, family, and townspeople, along with the main investigators of the case. They even had the opportunity to interview the murders after they were captured. The article turned into Capote’s In Cold Blood. Even though he didn’t acknowledge her contributions to the book, Lee received one of the dedications to the book.

“Harper Lee Medal” by Eric Draper

After the success of her book, she took a posting to the National Council of the Arts. Yet during the 70s and 80s she began to retreat from a public life, and became more and more private. During this time she began work on a non-fiction book about a serial killer in Alabama, but eventually stopped working on it. To this day, she remains an active member of both her church and community, while remaining as private as possible.

The Future

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Tomorrow, Lee will be releasing her second book, Go Set a Watchman. The book takes place 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird, and is set with Jean Louise “Scout” Finch’s return to Maycomb, AL. The book will tell about the characters adjusting to the changing cultural and political environments of the 50s.

You can get the book at bookstores, on eBook, and even at your local library. Give the book a read and tell us what you think. Does it hold up to the original?

Published Works

References

Why Batman Is A Great Literary Character

In honor of this year’s superhero themed Summer Reading Program, I thought it would be appropriate to describe why a certain superhero is a great literary character. First the argument would probably be made that superhero stories aren’t real literature, to which I will send you to the post from a couple weeks ago. Yes, superhero stories get looked down upon, but they can also show us a lot about ourselves. Thus, their characters shouldn’t be simply tossed aside because you have to look at them on every page. According to this post, there are 5 key elements that a character must have to be a good, memorable character. So we’re going to see how Bruce Wayne/Batman fits all of these criteria.

1. Recognition

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Miles Scott aka Batkid

Recognition means that we have to be able to see ourselves as this character, or have some sort of connection.

Who couldn’t recognize themselves as Bruce Wayne or Batman? Aren’t we all billionaires that own super successful companies and at night hunt the city for bad guys that we beat to a pulp? NO! Of course that’s not true. But most people can still relate to Bruce. He lives a life that he constantly has to keep secrets, while also fighting to do good. Sometimes we go about it in the wrong way, but it is often said that the ends justify the means. No, we don’t have endless cash to fund our crusade against crime. Yet we can connect with the focus to do good for the benefit of all.

2. Personality

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Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne for Fox’s Gotham

Personality show us that we have a relationship with this character.

Batman has seen the dark side of his home town (Gotham City). It drives him to have one goal, to eradicate evil where ever it hides. But this isn’t where it stops for Bruce. He’s a friend, a son, a lover, and a father. All of these he blends in to his crime fighting. However, he has a character flaw that all of his acquaintances have come to accept. Bruce is a loner. Even when teaming up with the Justice League, he will take some time to himself (and usually solves the big mystery in the meantime). But man can be full of wit, and straight up bluntness that most superheroes don’t have.

Sorry, I had to add this one
Sorry, I had to add this one

3. Humanity

Batman and Robin Sometimes Dead Is Better

Humanity is what helps us see the character as more than what they are.

Bruce has long been the epitome of stone faced and unflinching. Yet he has one major soft spot, which usually comes in the form of whoever is in the Robin costume. This started because Dick Grayson went through a situation that reminded Bruce of his own (both witnessed their parents murder). So Bruce took him in and cared for him. Since that time, Batman has always had a special place in his heart for each one of the Robins. As the “Bat-Family” expands (Nightwing, Red Robin, Batgirl, Bat-Woman, etc), Bruce tends to open up just a little bit more.

4. Enrichment

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Enrichment is how we see our characters in the real world. Can the make mistakes and deal with real world problems?

Aside from the crime fighting, we see Batman deal with personal crisis over and over. Batman started with personal tragedy. Bruce Wayne witnessed the murder of his parents in a back alley of Gotham City. This was what sent him on his path to becoming the Batman. Yet the troubles don’t end there. One of the most notable ones was with the death of Jason Todd (Robin #2). Batman went on a rampage where everyone he came in contact with usually got his fist in their face. Yet when Tim Drake (Robin #3) deduced Bruce Wayne was Batman, he was able to convince him that he needed Robin to help him from going to a dark place.

5. Pain

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Pain describes how our characters deal with pain.

Batman is no stranger to pain. He’s been feeling it since he was a boy that witnessed his parents murder. Then there was the death of the Graysons. Then Jason Todd. Batgirl was beaten so severely by the Joker, that most thought she was going to die. There was also the death of his own son, Damian Wayne. There have also been countless times of physical pain, most notably when Bane “broke the Bat”, by breaking Bruce Wayne’s back. Through all of the pain, people (especially those who have lost people close to them) have been able to connect with this character.

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So what do you think? Can superheroes be great literary characters as well? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Graphic Novels Are NOT Throw Away Literature

Let me start by saying, the goal is to get people reading. It doesn’t matter what the reading material is (it could be the cereal box), just as long as you are reading. By the way, CONGRATULATIONS! You’re reading and I couldn’t be happier. That being said, there is a medium that is being looked down upon as lesser literature; that we can somehow pretend that these books don’t exist, and that they will simply go away because we ignore them. These books (if you haven’t guessed it) are Graphic Novels.

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There is a difference between graphic novels and comic books. Graphic novels are usually longer, and tell a complete story from beginning to end. On the other hand, a comic book comes in installments that can tell a whole story, or is a compilation of several smaller stories. To put it another way, Batman: The Killing Joke is a graphic novel, Garfield at Large is a comic book.

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Since they were first introduced in the late 70’s, graphic novels have been looked at as “for children”. While this is certainly the case for some, there are still others that can reach us in a way that no “regular” book can. That’s the point of literature; to affect as many people as possible, and help them see the world in a different light. How are they regarded as “for children”, you may ask? Simple. They have pictures! Some of them bight and beautiful, while others are dark and gritty.

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Another reason that graphic novels are looked down upon is because a large portion of them are superhero stories. While superhero stories can also be good literature (that is for a later post), this isn’t reflective of the whole group of books. Several of them seek to put us into the shoes of someone else. I recently read a post talking about this. It focused on a graphic novel called The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. The book is the author’s story of growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. She uses the pictures to help her audience enter into her world.

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Page from The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Graphic novels have shown a light on several topics over their years that are beyond the good vs evil motif of superhero stories. Here are just a few:

  • Blankets by Craig Tompson – the adolescent years and questioning faith
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman – stories of Holocaust survivors
  • The Sandman by Neil Gaiman – philosophical conversations between ideas and historical figures
  • Y: The Last Man by Brain K Vaugh – feminism
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore – critique on the superhero genre, capitalism, and the nuclear arms race
  • Pyongyang by Greg Delisle – the culture of North Korea

“Graphic novels are not traditional literature, but that does not mean they are second-rate. Images are a way of writing. When you have the talent to be able to write and to draw, it seems a shame to choose one. I think it’s better to do both.” — Marjane Satrapi

Essentially my claim is that we shouldn’t write off graphic novels because of what they are. Give them a try. They can be just as good as any other “regular” novel. If you need helping picking one out, you can always go to your local library and ask a librarian for some help. Take the opportunity, while libraries across the county do Summer Reading, to try something new.