Harper Lee — the famously private author, might never have written the classic “To Kill A Mockingbird” if it hadn’t been for a 1950s Christmas gift. 

Back in 1956, Lee was a ticket agent for British Overseas Airways Corporation. Like most struggling writers, she was having trouble balancing her job and finding time to write. She told this to her New York City friends, Michael and Joy Brown (who were also friends of Truman Capote).

Michael was a successful “industrial musical writer” whom American corporations hired to create performances to inspire their workers. His clients ranged from DuPont to JC Penney, and he was raking in the money for songs like “The Wonderful World of Chemistry.”

So in 1956, the Browns’ gave Lee the best Christmas present of all: An entire year’s salary so she could take time to write whatever she wanted. “There was an envelope on the tree, addressed to me. I opened it and read: ‘You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas,'” she wrote in McCall’s Magazine in 1961. “ They assured me that it was not some sort of joke. They’d had a good year, they said. They’d saved some money and thought it was high time they did something about me.”

Lee took that time to write “To Kill A Mockingbird,” which sold over 40 million copies worldwide, has been translated into over 40 languages,  served as the basis for a hugely popular film, and for which she won a Pulitzer Prize.

“when life gives you a gift, receive it with all your heart.”

-enid ivanov





credits: Megan Willett-Wei, Insider

68 responses »

  1. Hi Beth – I had not heard this story – what a great gift. I knew all about her friendship with Truman Capote, but not with Michael and Joy Brown. How generous of them. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books. Thanks for sharing this!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Wow , what an inspiring story of generosity and opportunity! I think that it was more than the gift of time, it was also a gift of encouragement, and a little bit of incentive and pressure to produce because someone believed in you and made an effort to pave the way for you. Beautiful.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Interesting. I’ve never heard this before. One take away for me is that the gift of time is mine and I need to use it wisely and aptly. Lee didn’t say….naw, I don’t feel like writing this year…she sat down and got the job done. I like that. I need to learn from that. Thanks for sharing Beth.

    Liked by 4 people

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