#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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Native American Writer Gabriel Horn Celebrates the Child Narrator (We’ll Miss You, Scout)



Simply click on MOTHERLESS here.

/Beth Wareham (Q) and Gabriel Horn(A)

Q: You chose a 5 year old female orphan who lived with her Grandfather to tell this tale. Why? How did their relationship make the book deeper?

A: Innocence: The state, quality, or virtue of being innocent, especially freedom from sin, moral wrong, or guilt through lack of knowledge of evil…. Freedom from guile, cunning, or deceit.

That’s why in Motherless, five year old Rainy Peek became the protagonist. She epitomized Innocence, and what happens to such innocence in a world gone Koyaanisqatsi, out of balance. As she grows up, Rainy continues to symbolize the innocence in not just what is left of humanity’s children, but the innocence of all life forms subjected to civilized man’s lack of empathy, and for reasons even Rainy must try to understand, his cruelty.

Rainy embodies innocence until it is almost entirely stolen from her. I feel all the children in the novel emanated out of simply the innocence of being born, but not all children are allowed to retain it for very long. To this end, Motherless does not cower from the causes of senseless self-centered acts, inflicted by humans of all ages that steal the innocence from our world. We know some parents can be the very ones responsible for defiling the innocence of their own children.

I think Terrance Walcott is an example of that. I mean, really, what was Terrance to his parents, especially to a stepfather who made it his responsibility to bully the kid into an image of his own narrow minded and ethnocentric adult world view? What was Terrance to his mother but something she did once to help her feel complete, but never had? What was Terrance to his father that his only act of trying to connect with his son’s admiration for this young Indian girl was to give him a Cleveland Indian’s baseball cap? Each parent destroyed Terrance, and they did it early on without shame, sometimes just out of ignorance, but not without guilt and not without pain. In turn, like history repeating itself, Terrance went on to steal the innocence of others.

Even Mr. Kline, aka the Colonel, assumes the role of innocence destroyer. He is the teacher, the one driven by a haunting past to impose his indoctrinated perspective of history on his students with the most patriotic of intentions, never even attempting to understand the motivation behind the very war that stole what was left of his own innocence. And again, as he in turn ripped away the innocence of others in war, he perpetuates the cycle with his students, and with his own son. It’s a vicious, violent cycle. I wanted Motherless to help reveal its impact on individuals and on our world.

In the scene when the pedophile man attempts to steal an innocent child from the world, who better to protect that child than the powerful wolf who was, himself, an innocent victim of soulless men?

Then there’s the lost innocence of Sadie Willis, Rainy’s best friend whose own mother would, and eventually, could not accept the responsibility of motherhood. And Sadie’s Rasta father, himself clinging to a semblance of innocence that only gets taken from him in the end as well.

Regardless of whatever happens in their youth, and the losses of innocence they must endure, these children never sacrificed their souls to a cultureless way of life hell bent on consumption and dominance. Instead, Rainy and Sadie cling to what they manage to retain of that precious innocence through defiance and resistance, and out of love for the kind souls around them.

When Rainy is eleven years old, with the guidance and encouragement of her grandfather, she steps into her vision on a magical island where she encounters, the mystical Ah-nuh. At one point, the distraught Ah-nuh reveals her anguish as she feels the love of all the non-human life around her, and the idea of what happens to them as a result of soulless human behavior.

Despite the innocence stolen away in Motherless, I wanted to show some of what it’s like, whatever the reason, for older people who raise the children of their own children, and the kinds of situations and responsibilities they assume. Not only does Grandpa find a way to balance his own life’s regrets and losses, with his caring for Rainy, but Sadie’s grandmother, in order to provide a healthy environment for her granddaughter, must learn to draw on her will that at some point in time had been lost. Both of the girls’ grandparents are dealing with health issues, and the two girls become cognizant of this, and for ways to assist them both lovingly and with dignity. With Sadie, she even assumes the role of caregiver. Rainy aware of her grandfather’s limitations, shows in more subtle ways, how children can care for their elders even as their elders care for them.

More than anything, though, I wanted to show that the love between grandparent and grandchild shared by Rainy and Grandpa is tender and precious. That such a bond does, in fact, still exist. But I needed, for those of us who do not know such love, to have the vicarious experience that I could provide in Motherless, and that maybe, knowing that it can exist, we strive to find it ourselves, to honor it, and to treasure it.

That’s the depth, and the exquisite bond between these two generations that I wanted to explore in Motherless, showing that kids can make choices if they are giving a spiritual and responsible foundation that allows them resilience. I wanted to show that wisdom can come with age, and having someone to pass that wisdom down, provides a precious purpose and sense of being that is undeniably a necessity for a peaceful and healthy society.

In the end, Rainy Peek’s story in Motherless became a lot about lost innocence and trying to understand how this world got to be the way it is, how civilized people got to be the way they are, and about the innocence that’s worth fighting to keep. And maybe seeing that the vicious cycle can be broken. It may or may not have been my intellectual choice to exemplify this innocence in Rainy. It may also not have been solely my choice in showing grandparents as valued beings who need a sense of purpose. It well may have been the choice of the story.

FREE on Kindle Prime MOTHERLESS (Click on the title to go to amazon.com.)

Gabriel Horn Native American author, Motherless, University of South Florida, Save the Earth, Native American wisdomgabe-usf-lecture_med

Motherless, Gabriel Horn, Native American Author, Native American author

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