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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Harper and Truman

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.
 – Harper Lee

Everybody’s writing or talking about Harper Lee today, so I might as well join the ranks.  If you ever want to talk about the epitome of one-time hit wonders – whether it be books or music – To Kill A Mockingbird certainly has to be near the top of the list.  And, of course to call it a “hit” would be the understatement of the century.  The book has sold nearly 40 million copies, been made into an Academy Award-winning movie, and been the focus of high school and college English courses for 50 years.

So, like everyone else I’m anxiously awaiting the publication of the book’s sequel, Go Set A Watchman, which interestingly was written first, but sat in a desk drawer for 60 years before seeing the light of day, and now publication.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that Lee and her childhood best pal Truman Capote both became huge figures in the literary world and both played significant roles in the success of the other.  For Lee, of course, it was putting Capote into Mockingbird as Scout’s friend Dill.  For Capote it was having Lee as the role model for a key character in his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, which earned him both the reputation as a gifted writer and also led to the book contract that resulted in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, another smash-hit book AND movie.

Harper Lee & Truman Capote around 1955

After completing To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee accompanied Capote to Holcomb, KS, to assist him in researching what they thought would be an article on a small town's response to the murder of a farmer and his family. The pair traveled there off-and-on for four years and Capote expanded the material into his best-selling book, In Cold Blood.  The interviewing and transcription techniques utilized by Capote and Lee after each of his conversations with the killers has been the subject of many journalistic studies on how to effectively conduct an interview without ever taking notes – a technique where the reporting is answers, "reported" from the reporter's memory,  and observations about how those answers were made. 

“Reporting” is brought to life from what happened in the moment.  A good style term for Lee’s amazing first book, and – I’m sure we all hope – for her upcoming second one as well.

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