Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird died this week.
Nelle Harper Lee was an American novelist widely known for To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. Immediately successful, it won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has become a classic of modern American literature. – wikipedia
It went on to be made into an Academy Awarding winning film in 1962.
By 1999 it was voted best novel of the century by the Library Journal
Can you imagine??? A book you wrote, the first book you wrote, wins the Pulitzer Prize, becomes and Oscar winning film and is voted the best novel of the century in your life time?
It makes me wonder what early and extreme success does to a person. Why did someone with such obvious talent and “something to say” only write one book? (or wait 55 years to publish a second).
Did Harper Lee’s extreme early success keep her from writing more books? In other words, would there be other great books on our library shelves by Harper Lee, if To Kill a Mockingbird had gain only moderate success? Or if the nation’s awareness of the book’s greatness happened more gradually?
Another classic American author whose first book went big was S.E Hinton with The Outsiders. She wrote the book as a teenager (!) published it at 18 and it went straight to the top of the charts. Unlike Harper Lee, she did go on to write a few more books, but not many for all the productive years still ahead of her, and none did as well as her first.
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about a sense of creative crippling that happened to her after her success with Eat Pray Love. How do you top multi-week NYT bestseller list and a movie starring Julia Roberts?
She gives a great TED talk about it here:
Nevertheless, Harper Lee left behind a great legacy with To Kill a Mockingbird, and we can all be thankful for that.
So, thank you, Harper Lee.