Monday, July 13, 2015


Return to Monroeville

By Doc Lawrence

MONROEVILLE, AL-The quiet little city, close to the place where Hank Williams spent his boyhood, has an exalted place in American literature. Here, Harper Lee and Truman Capote grew up as next door neighbors, reuniting as young adults as staff writers for The New Yorker, and going on to garner some impressive fame. To Kill a Mockingbird, occupies  a sacred place in American literature. And when I hear the haunting song “Moon River,” I see images of Holly, the character created by Capote in Breakfast at Tiffiny’s, portrayed on the screen by lovely Audrey Hepburn.

With the long anticipated release of Go Set a Watchman, Miss Lee’s sequel to Mockingbird, the media focus on this model Deep South town designated, as Alabama’s literary capital is fascinating. No matter the diversions of the digital age and the alleged dumbing down of the population, we still love to read books and will stand in line to purchase a good one. Stories, after all, stimulate the imagination. Few things provide better companionship when you are alone.

The Mockingbird House
The historic courthouse on the city square is a magnet to visitors spellbound by To Kill A Mockingbird. Walking the grounds, a visitor sees a birdhouse marked as “Mockingbird.” Inside is a wonderfully curated. museum dedicated to both Truman Capote and Harper Lee. Some of their relatives live here and conversations resonate with authenticity.

Monroeville provided Capote with poignant material. Writing in Self Portrait in 1972, Capote said, “As a child, I lived until I was ten or so with an elderly spinster relative in a rural, remote part of Alabama, Miss Sook Faulk. She was not more than twelve years old mentally, which is what accounted for her purity, timidity, her strange, unexpected wisdom.” He wrote two stories about her: A Christmas Memory and The Thanksgiving Visitor. A historical marker in Monroeville now serves as a guidepost for visitors seeking the Faulk house: a plot of land with the remains of a brick foundation near the historic courthouse square.

Returning to Alabama, my late mother’s home state, is an opportunity to learn and enjoy. The state’s culinary heritage ranks alongside it’s music (W. C. Handy, Sam Phillips, Emmylou Harris, Nat King Cole, Hank Williams), folk art (Myrtice West, Chris Clark, Charlie Luca, Mose Tolliver,), and literary figures Haper Lee and Truman Capote joined by many others like Pearl Cleage, Tom Key, Howell Raines, Celestine Sibley and Fannie Flagg.

Almost predictably, the new novel triggered gratuitous observations from people in far away places about Miss Lee and the characters in her novels. Like Margaret Mitchell and William Faulkner, Harper Lee and Truman Capote remain enigmatic. Being different has advantages. Down South, food, music, art and even worship follows a pattern.

Johnny Cash, singing a Tom Petty anthem proclaims:
We have our own way of praying
and every prayer is done
With a Southern accent
Where I come from.

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