Friday, July 22, 2011

In which the young Harper helps out the old Harper

Yesterday I posted on Facebook a link to an article about the fact that sales of To Kill a Mockingbird have increased over 100% since David and Victoria Beckham named their new baby daughter Harper after Harper Lee. The bub is in good company, with Paul Simon's son and Gregory Peck's grandson (and who knows how many other less well-connected infants) called Harper for the same reason.

Someone commented at that Facebook link that she wondered what Harper Lee thought about it; my immediate thought, given my own joy when the annual modest but very welcome Public Lending Right and Education Lending Right cheques arrive chez moi every May, was that if Harper Lee was still alive then I bet she was as pleased as all get-out. A quick check with Wikipedia revealed that Lee is indeed still alive; she was born in April 1926 and is therefore 85 years old.

Given its ubiquity and its staying power on literature courses in schools and universities ever since it was first published, I'm assuming that Lee's iconic novel has kept her in cat food and bananas all her life, but the boost to royalties from the Beckham input can surely, to an 85-year-old woman living in a country where people die daily because they can't afford medical treatment and care, be nothing but very welcome.

I didn't know this lovely story from the Wikipedia entry about how To Kill a Mockingbird came to be written, so here it is. Props to Michael Brown or what? They don't make patrons like that any more.

In 1949, a 23-year-old Lee arrived in New York City. She struggled for several years, working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines and for the British Overseas Air Corp (BOAC). While in the city, Lee was reunited with old friend Truman Capote, one of the literary rising stars of the time. She also befriended Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Brown and his wife Joy. Having written several long stories, Harper Lee located an agent in November 1956. The following month at the Browns' East 50th townhouse, she received a gift of a year's wages from them with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." She quit her job and devoted herself to her craft. Within a year, she had a first draft.


  1. I like the idea of Harper sitting at home profiting off the Beckham's. Now if I could just get a celebrity couple to name their baby Winter maybe my sales would improve!

  2. Unbelievable opportunity for Harper to get some work done. I wonder if that kind of thing still happens. I know some writers get large advances but a years wage is almost unfathomable in 2013.

  3. Hello from U.S. of A. Just found your very fascinating literary blogs (I have a bookstore in northern Michigan) and thought you and your readers might be interested in this news of Harper Lee:

    I'm going on now to read more on your blog and am happy to have found it. Long live literature!

  4. Awesome work.Just wanted to drop a comment and say I am new to your blog and really like what I am reading.Thanks for the share