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.”
credits: Megan Willett-Wei, Insider
I signed his copy of ‘The Tale of Despereaux’ and he said, “My teacher said fifth grade is the year of asking questions.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. He took out a notebook. “Every day we’re supposed to ask someone different a good question and listen really good and then write down the answer when they’re done talking.”
“Oh,” I said, “I get it. I’m someone different. Okay, what’s your question?”
“My question is how do you get all that hope into your stories?”
“That’s not a good question,” I said. “That’s a great question. Let me think. Um. I guess that writing the story is an act of hope, and so even when I don’t feel hopeful, writing the story can lead me to hope. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah,” he said. He looked me in the eye. “It’s kind of a long answer. But I can write it all out. Thanks.”
He picked up his copy of Despereaux, and walked away—writing in his notebook.
This was years ago.
Why did I wake up this morning and think of this child?
Maybe because this is a time to start asking good questions, a time to write down the answers, a time to listen to each other really well.
I’m going to get myself a little spiral bound notebook.
I’m going to listen and hope.
-Kate DiCamillo – American author
that surprising and wonderful moment
when you discover
there is yet one more unread book
written by one of your favorite authors
hiding in plain sight
waiting for you to pick it up.
“books are for nothing but to inspire”
“the exact day I became a poet was april 1, 1965,
the day I bought my first typewriter.”
in honor of poetry month.
mine was the day I learned to hold a pencil
and found a scrap of paper to scribble on.
image credit: daskeyboard