Ken Burns: On Story

Ken Burns is the king of PBS – his history specials and miniseries are known throughout the US as evocative, realistic portrayals of American History. He is arguably the most well-known documentary film maker of our time. The following short documentary, Ken Burns: On Story, gives us the filmmakers insights and ideas on the craft of story.

The film originally appeared in The Atlantic as, Ken Burns on Why His Formula for a Great Story Is 1+1=3 and was also discussed  on Brainpickings.

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Beneath the Tides of Sleep and Time

Beneath the tides of sleep and time
Strange fish are moving!    

Thomas Wolfe

freya-wave-laurie-behnen

I’ve been back in the region of my childhood for three years. There were a few times, those first years, when I came back for several months at a time  before leaving again. But, I’ve never considered that “being” here. My reality is that I left at the age of seventeen and didn’t return for twenty-seven years. Now, in my early forties, I’ve come back to a town filled with ghost-like memories of a place and its silent-voiced people that no longer exist.

The clouds still look the same overhead, floating across cow-filled pastures, an opaque-white fluff against the blue-purple outline of mountains. The same sounds of whippoorwills and crickets sing through the nights.

I stand, on my back porch, as the last light of day slips away and the crickets hum. In this growing dark moment I can pretend that the twenty-seven years hasn’t passed – I am once again here in my youth listening to the singing of the whippoorwills as they welcome the deep night.

Most of the old home places are torn down – the grass, trees, and new growth disguising the old sites. Driving by them makes memory appear a trick of false pictures. Is that really the yard we once played in and the tree I loved to climb? Erasure, the way nature reclaims its own, in spite of previous existence and the blood of memory soaking that ground.

The vast-rambling plants, grasses, and trees disguise the greater void of all who are missing. This is the saddest part. Both sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and all the older church members are long dead and buried. Laying flowers across bronze or beneath the shadow of granite is all I can give them. Their personalities and laughter absent from the impersonal carvings. Their formal names and date to date is all there is.

I chose this path. Each step forward, toward the new, requiring a leaving behind and stepping further away from what lived here. I remember me as a thirsting, starving soul – I was silently dying. It took the leaving to make me grow, for me to understand my true and deepest identity, for me to become the intended individual that I now am. I know this as truth within my most sacred self. I chose this path – I am my own expertly crafted story.

* / * / *

The book of me isn’t finished, but the chapter I’ve lived in this past three years is telling itself into ending. I feel it. I’m familiar with these closures that seem to come unbidden, but later prove necessary and instrumental for the next phase of my life.

Coming home has been about reconciliation with myself more than anything else. I wouldn’t have expected that, but it is often at the end of a thing that you are able to see it most clearly. My life here, as a child and teenager, provided little community or friendship. I lived in an odd isolation that it would take me years to understand.

My grandparents, favorite aunts and uncles, and the like provided a foundational concept of love; but it was many long years before I could see that at work in my becoming. The deep sense of isolation, my inability to find fulfilling relationships, or a place where I could truly “fit in” as they say would change after my leaving.

In the twenty-seven years away – time divided between Atlanta, Georgia and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – I would find my “fitting in’” and my individual identity, expand and examine my belief systems, and develop a workable life philosophy.  It’s taken this time of coming home for me to actually see clearly who I’ve become. That I am happy with the overall picture is a surprise and a gift. Other than that, my past in this specific place holds less of value to me than I hoped it would. The past is a combination of shredded mirage-memory images.  It is the future that calls and whispers to me as a vivid-flowing movement. And, it is endings that open the doors through which the future comes.

* / * / *

My children and grandchildren are here – that is my reason for staying.  My son and daughter, both in their mid-to-late twenties, are adults living their own lives. We have grown together the past few years, each one of us helping the other or celebrating through alternate periods of trial and joy. I am proud of them and content in the knowledge that they are happy, healthy, and blessed with wonderful spouses and children.

I love my children dearly, but it is the love and desire for my grandchildren that holds me rooted in this place of thick-red clay. I enjoy being a grandma more than I could have ever imagined.  The four “babies” range from 3 to 7 years old and are a constant  treasure and blessing to me – each of them special and unique individuals that I adore.

* / * / *

I spent Saturday afternoon at work with a couple from Argentina (as they purchased a car from me). It was a wonderful visit for me and I deeply enjoyed our conversation. Lately, I drift in to thoughts of traveling overseas, even becoming an expat like Hemingway and so many others. There is something that calls me to South America and Europe – part of the artist that is enamored of these places where such long history and artistic depth lives. Just “to walk the streets” as they say . . .

I met a lovely lady from Poland last year (again, in the sales process of my real-world job) and we became immediate pals. She came to work for me for a while and we remain friends after her leaving. We talk often of a trip to Europe this coming year – she’ll take me around Poland, Germany, and maybe even Greece. I love this thought, love to contemplate this trip with a wonderful friend (who will make sure I don’t get lost since I speak not one word of German, Greek, etc.).

I have always wanted to travel overseas to these places – a longing I have often dusted off and examined, but began to take less seriously as the years passed. Thanks to my wonderful friend, Agnes, this desire is rekindled. I feel the shift in movement – in path – like a wave rushing the sand between my toes brushing the tops of my feet. Travel . . . again.

* / * / *

I’ve jumped on planes, traveled by trucks, hopped in my car and started driving – traveling throughout the United States several times. These “other places” seem to thrall my Gypsy blood – it rests awhile and then roars with rushing to movement, to travel, to seeking. Each of these trips and times in other parts of the US (often working in other regions for long periods of time) created deep changes in understanding and perspective for me. I was not the same person coming home as I was in the leaving. (I deeply believe every young person should travel for a time before settling down if at all possible!)

* / * / *

The past four months at work (day job again) have been horrific in many ways. I’ve experienced things I could in no way anticipate or expect – things that put me in a position to make some very difficult decisions. I made a decision that I felt was the “right one,” as well as the only one I being me could make following some very dark days of hurt, confusion, and serious in-depth thought. The coming weeks will bring the results of that choice and I continue to pray for wisdom moving forward and a final resolution that will bring peace.

I am coming to a cross-roads of sorts in my business life. Maybe it’s just that mid-life crises everyone jokes about! Either way, I’m giving serious thought to leaving the automotive industry – my 70-hour-weeks life’s blood for the past 7 years. I am transitioning mentally (and maybe physically). It will be interesting to see how it all turns out down where those “strange fish are moving.” I’ll keep you posted!

 

~South Carolina, January 2012

 

Artwork: Freya Wave by Laurie Behnen. To see more artwork by this artist, please visit her site at Fine Art America. Please help support this wonderful artist by visiting FAM and maybe even buying a print or notecards!

 

I’m a spirit that has come {part I}

“I’m a spirit that has come a long way. Try to destroy me, you’ll find I’m permanent. I’ll live on …./….
I am the goddess of all things. I am about to give birth
to beauty, migrants, savage light of every kind. /….“ 

~Alice Notley, from Eurynome’s Sandals, in The Best American Poetry 2010. 

I am one of those people who have strange falling-domino-like experiences in my life. I find breadcrumbs, figuratively speaking, much like those in children’s stories to help them get home; except, my breadcrumbs are usually leading me forward into an unknown. These falling-domino breadcrumbs are specific events that link together and lead me down a certain curiosity-filled path.

The experiences resemble stories of the ancient Greek Oracles, Roman Deities, the Christian God, or the Hand of Fate. Each one symbolic and representative of the human experience where an Unknown Other works to mold the destiny of man. My goal, in the next several posts, is to share these experiences with my readers.

*****

I was barely twenty-one when I experienced my first major ‘breadcrumb’ trail that felt like an otherworldly intervention. It started with the television show, Beauty and the Beast. Not the children’s cartoon, but the “monster-under-the-tunnels-of-the-city-made-for-prime-time” adult version. I watched the show during the three seasons it was on and enjoyed the storyline and the romantic episodic readings of poetry. I didn’t think much more about it until a year down the road when I was rummaging through a music store’s clearance shelves and came across a soundtrack tape of the show. I bought it and listened to it regularly. Eventually, curious about the strange and beautiful poetry, I looked-up the names of the writer’s and poet’s listed on the tape. This led me to the name of poet Rainer M. Rilke.

Now, fast forward another few months down the line: I’m standing in a bookstore looking at a book of poems on the shelf by Rainer Rilke. I immediately feel a bright “ah-ha spark” of recognition and believe I’m supposed to read his work. I bought Letters to a Young Poet and Uncollected Poems that day (with a follow-up of Sonnets to Orpheus and Stories of God a few months later). These books, quite literally, changed my life by leading me into the area of poetry as emotional catharsis and artistic expression.

****

As a child of ten, I had a wonderful experience with a poet who came to teach at my school. He introduced poetry as a fun game, which I loved. I became enthralled enough to write a poem that was eventually “published.” Poetry was fun with words for me. I was attracted to poetry for a few years, but the type of playful-fun poetry I’d known disappeared.

My teen years had their share of dysfunction, confusion, and pain; but those traumas lent themselves to essays more than poetry.I ended up writing the typical I-hate-life and the-world-sucks type of stories for awhile, but no poetry. Poetry evaporated from my daily life. My twenties came, bringing with them a divorce, the effort to raise two small children alone, and dismal job opportunities that barely paid enough for us to live – poetry was the furthest thing from my mind. And then … I met Rilke.

It really was like that when I opened Letters to a Young Poet and started reading. Suddenly, the man Rilke was a living, tender breath, talking to me through passages like this:

…love your solitude and bear the pain of it without self-pity. The distance you feel from those around you should trouble you no more than your distance from the farthest stars. Be glad that you are growing, and realize that you cannot take anyone with you; be gentle with those who stay behind. ….. Find in a true and simple way what you have in common with them, which does not need to change when you yourself change and change again. When you see them, love life in a form that is not your own, and be kind to all the people who are afraid of their aloneness. (Worpswede, July 16, 1903 – Letters to a Young Poet)

What a truly beautiful encouragement! A poetic paragraph filled with the essence of the man, his voice speaking across the years to another in search of solace, as he gently gives of his understanding and wisdom. What wonderful advice to live by during a divorce – this perspective allowing room for the differences and the understanding that things must change, but that change need not happen filled with hate and malice at its center. Instead, a way of looking at the personal element of change in a new light that holds new hope for the future.

Perhaps the greatest element of Rilke’s work is his ability to find compassion for the self and others, and to then transmute that ability to his reader. He is a timeless voice of wisdom speaking across the years and cultures of the world:

I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language. Don’t dig for answers that can’t be given you yet: you cannot live them now. For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer. (Worpswede, July 16, 1903 – Letters to a Young Poet)

Reading Rilke is like stepping off the end of the earth, falling through the noise of modern life, and then landing in a cloud-like place of whispered mists and delicate beauty. This timeless quality breathes in all his work be it poems, letters, or stories. The presence of the poet Rilke is ingrown, deeply twined throughout the words and writing, his spirit defying separation. The work is Rilke and Rilke is the work – this is the red meat and open entrails of the poet as he speaks his truth in a moment of existence. His creation out of chaos bringing prophecy and immortality together in a few specific lines:

God Speaks

I am, you anxious one.

Don’t you sense me, ready to break
into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings
Can’t you see me standing before you
cloaked in stillness?
Hasn’t me longing ripened in you
from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?

I am the dream you are dreaming.
When you want to awaken, I am waiting.
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold
your cities made by time. (The Book of Hours I, 19)

 

Rilke explores the Unknown Other that we all try to define in his poetry. Forsaking an effort at definition, Rilke delves into the actual presence and characteristics of the Unknown Other. His work doesn’t try to fit the artistic experience with labels, rather he walks with the deities and gods, allows them to speak as they will, asks them the questions we all want to ask: what does it mean? Why am I here? Are you real? His questions pay homage to the vast possibilities within the misting chaos while accepting the audience, the reader, as a fellow traveler in search of understanding.

This is the heart of poetry, the conjoining of poet, poems, and audience into a simultaneously gigantic and tiny wholeness. The poet speaks intimately with us and we with him, but in a mystical way he can also speak to all and we can hear the all giving its answer. Poetry, at once present and modern, also lingers elsewhere in a primordial state of rawness and blood.

*****

It is in the oddly mysterious falling-domino breadcrumbs that I find amazing things waiting just on the other side of chaos. And, maybe it’s simpler than what we imagine, maybe it happened just as the Pelasgian creation myth says it did….

In the beginning, Eurynome, the Goddess of All Things, rose naked from Chaos….

*****

Have you ever had your own “falling-domino breadcrumb” experience? Would you like to share?

How do you see poetry? What does it mean to you in this moment of time?

Have you ever read Rilke? What are your thoughts on his work? Favorite passages?

Artwork EurynomeJanto.jpg courtesy of www.paleothea.com.

For more information on Eurynome, please visit: www.paleothea.com or Eurynome at Wikipedia 

For more information and/or to order books by Rainer M. Rilke, please visit the following sources:

Rilke Bio at Poets.org   Rilke Books at Amazon       Rilke at Wikipedia     Rilke at PoemHunter.com

 

 

 


The 99% and The Battle for America

“Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked?“      ~Soren Kierkegaard

venice_masque

We are the author of our own personal truth. We make daily decisions, as the creator, designing and constructing the platform-frame as a foundation to which we attach our personality, build a narrative history, and create a legacy that becomes the unique remembrance of us in the world. We do this as individuals and as the United States of America.

Nationally, as Americans, we love to believe in the American Dream – that anyone can become anything, rising above circumstances and limitations, to become an American success story.  Our history is one of dreamers and dreams being born and flourishing. Our soil grows an independent fighting Spirit that makes us seek more and better; each new generation shoving past its predecessor to become smarter, brighter, stronger, richer, and happier. This is the promise we have cherished since becoming a nation; a promise believed to be our great Destiny. We are a nation built on hope, individuality, and dreams.

But, times are changing, and as New Americans we live in a time of masks. Our politicians are primarily a collective of hidden faces behind picturesque disguises, the national economy still tragically caught within a depression that is masked by the title recession, and numerous negative sociological and cultural changes ignored and denied as non-existent boogey-monsters imagined by an uneducated and panicky lower-class public. The American Dream still applies to 1% of the population, but what about the 99% who have trouble sleeping and haven’t dreamed in years?

Class Levels and the Battle for Education

America has always been a land of class division as much as she would deny it. However, not since the years of open slavery has the schism between the rich and poor been so great. The classes continue to grow in distance from one another, with the realities of one class being almost incomprehensible to the other class. At the heart of these different realities lies education.

The poorer classes traditionally are less educated and less literate than the more prosperous classes. The recent cuts in public school budgets for arts and sciences, the teacher downsizing and layoffs in the public schools, and the current trend toward staff reductions and closing of public libraries is obviously more detrimental to the poor. Likewise, when the fear of government shut-downs were discussed, it was the military and public parks that faced pay cuts and closures – both of which are utilized by and filled with people of poor to modest incomes. The rich seldom need to use these services or join our military forces.

The money and privilege of the higher classes provides advantages beyond what the “average” American can afford. High crime rates, violent acts during a crime, and major drug use are often directly traceable to lack of education and trauma in the home. Deprivation of basic resources and a sense of stability and security, along with unhealthy self-esteem, creates an unbalanced psyche that leans toward mental illness, drug use, and violent crime. While the answer may not be to throw money at the problems once they’ve reached that stage; certainly, no one would deny that our society benefits from educating our children, teaching them to be productive, ensuring that all children have their basic needs met, and are provided a good, basic education.

Education is like medical care: those with higher incomes and more disposable money will always be able to purchase both commodities. Those without the funds to do so lose the foundation of opportunity. We create a society in which violence thrives because higher education, critical thinking, logic and problem solving have not been taught. Instead, people take what they want by forces believing that to be the only way they’ll ever have it. Lack of opportunity, inequality, and jealousy creates violent men and women.

door-lock_small 

In recent years, our public education system has fallen terribly short of its objectives – we do need review and changes. However, cutting teacher pay, laying-off teachers, and increasing class size are not forward-moving steps. Rather, these are antiquated methods that lock doors to keep certain people (classes) “in their place.” An uninformed and uneducated public is also a less powerful public. But, we must beware, because history shows that mob rule becomes the norm when people cannot find voice or power any other way.

 

 Who is the 99% ?

 

There’s a wonderful article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, in this month’s Vanity Fair, titled, “Of The 1%, By The 1%, For The 1%,” that explores the inequality in wealth and class in America. According to Stiglitz:

The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent….While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.

  

This is a staggering truth – the numbers don’t lie. The rich run the country through wealth and power, and the middle class IS shrinking. Stiglitz goes on to examine this situation in depth, looking at the ruling class and politicians, at current reinforcing rules, and at what this means for America as time passes. In closing he explains a basic truth often forgotten by those in power: As a nation, the fate of the 1 percent and the fate of the 99 percent is intricately knotted together.

The 99 percent could be called the “average Americans.” The men and women who work a job in construction, food service, plants or warehouses, service industries, and myriad other “blue and white collar” jobs. The 1 percent are the politicians, the IT millionaires, the privileged dynasty families, and the other top power brokers in our nation. The 1 percent, like the mythical comments of the French queen, may very well say “let them eat cake,” as the lower classes starve. Again, history teaches us valuable lessons about the abject distance between the two classes and the violence that is possible when the rich and powerful men forget that the poor man has a destiny entwined with his own.   

For the Love of Art and Artists

Photography Prints

I’ve always been a fan of art and artists. Even to the point of marrying one! But, long before meeting my husband, art was firmly rooted in my mind as a flowering garden I would always admire. My first two memories of art as a child revolve around Crayola Crayons and the picture of a horse painted by my mother.

First memory: my Crayola Crayons. I still recall them with great joy (you know, the sixty-four pack with the sharpener in the back)! Unusual names like Sienna, Thistle, Raw Umber, and Magenta conjured up images of a wild, exotic land far away from the rural, humdrum farmhouse of my childhood. I loved coloring as a child, but I could never master drawing.

Eventually, getting bored with coloring and being unable to draw, I went through a spell of melting the various individual crayons and pouring them together in molds to create new color choices. All this under my grandparents watchful eyes, of course, and to the chagrin of my mother and other adults. They would stop by and find me in the dining room with an old cooking pot (donated by my grandmother for the effort) filled with melting crayons on top of the wood stove, the smell of hot wax drifting through the rooms. My grandparents would shush the naysayers with, “she’s just a child.”

“It’s okay. She’s not hurting anything,” was the mantra as they sat watching me stir various colors into tin cans, saucers, and any other makeshift molds I could find. (Just for the record, my grandparents were so darn cool to let me do that!)

Second memory: that cute little brown horse standing in a bright green pasture. I’m not sure the exact age that I noticed the painted pony, but I was young and it was before I started school. It was vivid. I remember asking my grandmother about it. There was a tone of pride in her voice as she explained that my mother had painted it.

My mother had me very young. As a child, I adored her and believed she was the most beautiful creature on the planet. The fact that she had painted this, that she was an artist, made her suddenly mysterious and talented too. I studied the picture often, picturing my mother as she painted; begging to see the picture up close. A request my grandmother often indulged. I would hold it in my hands, staring at each stroke of paint, at the way in which the lines met to create the picture in full.

The picture held great significance because it was the only painting in my grandmother’s house. There were doilies, ceramic plates from various places, trinkets and family photographs on the fireplaces and side tables, but there were no other pieces of art anywhere in the house.

I grew up watching the little horse, trying to draw something that even slightly resembled the horse, or anything “real,” to no avail. The more obvious my inability as an artist became (I couldn’t even manage to get the paint-by-numbers pictures done correctly) the more I admired my mother’s artistic talent. I eventually turned to writing as a way of drawing pictures with words. And words remain the closest I can come to artistry. I am unable to paint with colored pencils, pastels and the like, but I learned to paint pictures with words. And, to a great extent, most of my poems and short-stories and heavy on imagery. I want the reader to see it.

So, loving art and artists as I do, I want to introduce you to a wonderful site: Fine Art America. They have numerous artists with art available in any medium imaginable, as well as offering the ability to purchase original canvas, framed pictures, notecards, etc. They also provide art images with a link for use on blogs that allow you to use the lovely work while correctly crediting the artist. Their mission, per the website says: “FineArtAmerica.com is a social network and e-commerce marketplace for photographers, visual artists, art galleries, and fine art collectors.  Visitors to FineArtAmerica.com can choose from over 1.5 million pieces of original artwork including paintings, sculptures, drawings, mixed media, jewelry, and more!” If you get a chance, please check them out at http://www.fineartamerica.com.

 

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Book Review> Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

Harper Lee and President George W. Bush at the...

Image via Wikipedia

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee  

Author: Charles J. Shields ©2006
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
ISBN-13:978-0-7394-7846-2  324 Pages

Fifty-one years after the publication of her Pulitzer Prizewinning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, author Harper Lee is again claiming the headlines. CBS News and the Sun-Sentinel both ran stories this month about President Obama honoring Harper Lee with the National Medal of Arts. Ms. Lee, aged 84, perhaps one of America’s greatest living authors, did not attend the ceremony. Her lack of attendance is no surprise to those of us who have read Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields. 

Mr. Shields writes, in the introduction to Mockingbird, that his book “aims to capture a life but is not a conventional biography, because – despite her novels huge impact – Lee’s writing life has been brief, and her personal life has been intensely private.” Mr. Shields goes on to explain his decision to write the book and the reasoning and research used to compose it. A beautiful and detailed introduction to the book sets the reader up to expect a hazy, distorted picture of Ms. Lee. However, the book is anything but that: clear and concise – weaving together research, commentary, and a warm narrative – the book transports the reader into a journey through life with Harper Lee. The authors desire to “capture a life” is eloquently and meticulously met in the pages that follow.            
                                   

This 324 page book provides a multi-layered picture of the woman that is Nelle Harper Lee: modern-day recluse, prior college drop-out, Pulitzer Prizewinning author, lonely airline ticket girl in New York, close childhood friend and research assistant to Truman Capote, tomboyish girl from the South, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, fervent church attendee, and winner of The National Medal of Arts. Lee, the enigmatic author of To Kill A Mockingbird, is simultaneously defined by these designations while remaining an individual that will not be subjugated to any one title that describes her. 

Mr. Shields, in Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, brings the feisty, Southern writer to life for his readers. She is a woman we can admire and understand. She is an uncommon author uninterested in wealth or movie-star status. She is simply Nelle, an author seeking to explore her talent and write something meaningful about the world and time in which she came of age. To Kill A Mockingbird is no longer just a Southern novel, but is transformed into an inevitable work of art by this writer. Her love of place, family, and the strong desire for empathetic justice fills the book as it fills her life. The clarity of Lee’s character shines in Shields book as he delves into the psychology of the time in which Ms. Lee wrote and the emotional connection she felt to time and place as displayed in her writing. 

Lee’s one and only book, To Kill A Mockingbird, is a book of substantial importance in American literature. It delves into the psyche and behavior in the American South during the period of racial unrest and blatant discrimination that characterized the decades of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. The book was a sensational hit during it’s time as summarized by Biography.com:

In July 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was published and picked up by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Literary Guild. A condensed version of the story appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine. The work’s central character, a young girl nicknamed Scout, was not unlike Lee in her youth…. part of the novel reflected racial prejudices in the South…. attorney,…Atticus Finch tries to help a black man who has been charged with raping a white woman to get a fair trial and to prevent him from being lynched by angry whites in a small town.

Cover of

Cover of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

The following year, To Kill a Mockingbird won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize and several other literary awards. Horton Foote wrote a screenplay based on the book and used the same title for the 1962 film adaptation. Lee visited the set during filming and did a lot of interviews to support the film. Earning eight Academy Award nominations, the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird won four awards, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch. The character of Atticus is said to have been based on Lee’s father. 

The popularity of Lee’s book in the 1960’s demonstrates a somewhat perfect timing in publishing history. To Kill A Mockingbird captured a moment of Southern and national history that would soon change, but her application of the broad themes of good and bad, fair and unfair, to the story created a timeless, universal novel. As an important piece of American literature, To Kill A Mockingbird demonstrates the fight for good over evil in the world, and advances the premise that one person can make a difference if he will only step forward and act on his deepest convictions. 

To Kill a Mockingbird

Image via Wikipedia

 

It is this literary-cultural duality that makes Lee’s work eternal. And, Shields adeptly captures this aspect of Lee, her life and work, in Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. It is an intimately beautiful portrait where Shields artistically draws Lee as a presence larger than the time and culture she wrote about. In the end, his portrait succeeds as he introduces the reader to a Harper Lee that is as boundless and enduring as her novel.

 Sources: 

1. Madison, Lucy. “Obama honors Meryl Streep, Harper Lee, Philip Roth, Quincy Jones and others with National Medals of Arts and Humanities.” CBS News Story online. March 2011. Http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20038421-503544.html (March 7, 2011) 

2. Kellogg, Carolyn. “Harper Lee to receive National Medal of Arts.” Los Angeles Times. March 2011.
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/entertainment/sns-lat-harper-lee-to-receive-national-medal-of-arts
20110301,0,5076637.story. (March 8, 2011)

 3. Harper Lee Biography. “Harper Lee Biography.” Biography.com. March 2011.
Http://www.biography.com/articles/harper-lee9377012?part=1 (March 9, 2011) 

4. The Associated Press. “Harper Lee Writes Rare Item for O Magazine.” Washington Post. June 2006. Http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2006/06/
26/AR2006062601039.html
(March 8, 2011) 

5. Charles J. Shields, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee.(New York: Henry Holt and Co., LLC, 2006).

Reprinted from Whippoorwill: an online literary journal, Spring 2011 issue. Original source at http://whippoorwilljournal.com/issue/whippoorwill/article/book-review-mockingbird-a-portrait-of-harper-lee