#writering: Hey Harper Lee Estate, Why Care Now?

#writering is an occasional column by Beth Wareham, co-founder of Lisa Hagan Books.

 

I’m calling bullshit on the Harper Lee estate. I know some of the actors – and I choose that word carefully and correctly – and their greed at the end of Harper’s life took Atticus Finch away from us.

Let me explain. Harper Lee published one book in her lifetime – To Kill a Mockingbird. She did not publish – nor would publish – another book. She also never allowed another film version of the book because she loved the Gregory Peck one so much.  When she died, her estate whipped out To Set a Watchman, the prequel to Mockingbird, and Harper Collins raced to publish.  It was a multi-million dollar deal, big by publishing standards.

The problem? To Set a Watchman was about the racist, unconscious Atticus Finch. (And God knows, we have plenty of those characters, imagined and real.) When her editor at Harper Collins read it all those years ago, the editor said, “go back home and try again.” Brilliant words, it turned out. A wonderful couple in New York City paid Harper’s expenses for a year and she wrote her masterpiece. America now had Atticus and he is an important figure in all our imaginations, a morality that goes where we do.

So now, the estate is swooping in to control the Broadway play that Aaron Sorkin is mounting.  That’s all fine and good – it’s their property – but don’t come to the aid on Harper’s behalf. You already sold her and Atticus out for money, something she managed to avoid in her lifetime. The play was produced everywhere by school children because again, money wasn’t her thing.

Because Harper was a great artist – she took a huge societal cruelty and fought it with a story – and her “estate” is a bunch of moist-handed “businessmen,” I’m going to skip the Broadway play – if it happens. I skipped the second book and To Kill a Mockingbird is here on my beside, where it will stay.

How about this, everyone. Stop messing with To Kill a Mockingbird and let future generations discover To Kill a Mockingbird by reading it. Let the Atticus feng-sui cover them like warm caramel as they begin to feel their own moral center, a world based on fairness, kindness, and the idea we are all innocent until proven guilty.

More Atticus, I say. Less everything else.

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