Harper Lee

Harper Lee Presentation, Nov. 1, 2016 by Cecilia Krupa, Calgary Women’s Literary Club


Part One: Treasures found on the veranda floor.

Here I write about the gift my parents gave me: a love of literature. While growing up in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, a steady stream of reading material made its way through an oval-shaped hole in the plywood above the front steps and landed on the floor in our veranda. I had many wonderful teachers as well. One teacher was Sister Judith, my grade eleven teacher, who read the novel, Kim by Rudyard Kipling out loud to the whole class. As a result, when I became a teacher, I chose a book to read out loud to my grade tens. To Kill a Mockingbird was that book.


Part Two: Who is Nelle?

In this section, I describe the life of Harper Lee, born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville Alabama. I compare the life of her childhood to many scenes in the book. I then describe Nelle’s life at Huntingdon College and the University of Alabama where she publishes stories of racial prejudice. Eventually, she drops out of law school after spending a summer at Oxford University studying Virginia Woolf. She moves to New York and receives a generous financial gift from friends in order to write. After many frustrating attempts, she sends her final draft to her favourite high school teacher, Miss Watson for editing. Nelle changes her first name to Harper. On July 11th, 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird is published to great acclaim.


Part Three: Spencer Tracy, really?

Here, I address the making of the movie. Leading men for the role of Atticus are: Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Rock Hudson and Spencer Tracy (Lee’s choice). Gregory Peck is chosen.


Part Four: Life after Mockingbird.

The book and the movie made Harper Lee rich and famous, but she maintained a simple lifestyle. She becomes a research assistant for Truman Capote and edits his novel, In Cold Blood. Harper attempts to write a second novel, but gives up in frustration. She lives in both New York and Monroeville. She attends book signings and accepts numerous awards such as The Pulitzer Prize, (1961) Best Novel of the Century (1999), Presidential Medal of Freedom, (2007) and The National Medal of the Arts (2011) Harper Lee dies in 2016 at the age of 89.


Part Five: Hookworms, ringworms and red geraniums.

Here I highlight two characters from TKM: Miss Caroline Fisher and Miss Mayella Ewell.

Miss Caroline has difficult students to contend with, as well as Scout, a student who can already read. Mayella, on the other hand, lives behind a garbage dump with seven siblings. Her father physically abuses her. She accuses Tom Robinson of rape. I then refer to the lovely symbol of the red geraniums which Mayella waters everyday finding a moment of solace.


Part six: Warts and all: The controversy concerning Go Set a Watchman.

I quote an article by Laurence Hill for The Globe and Mail on July 18, 2015 in which he suggests that “To Kill a Mockingbird is a book that every young person should read . . . to learn about racism . . . Go Set a Watchman is likely to become a valuable footnote to that process . . .


My presentation is fourteen pages long and fifty minutes in length. It includes a display of books, photos, and a one-page handout. The movie is also shown during the social hour.