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At the end of a stretch of winding, winding country roads in rural central Alabama is a plaza similar to those found in countless other small towns in America.
Except it’s not just any other square. It is the place where legendary Alabama scribe Nelle Harper Lee spent her childhood summers and was inspired to write her iconic, Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” It is the epicenter of the world of Southern literature and now serves as a time capsule to the days long ago when Scout Finch watched his duty-driven father, Atticus, fight for truth and human rights. all.
The Old Monroe County Courthouse, which serves as the nucleus instead, opened in 1904, 22 years before Lee was born and nearly six decades before the adventures of Scout, Jem, Dill and Boo Radley are woven into the fabric of American literature. It still dominates the countryside, now serving as a museum and backdrop for productions of the play “To Kill A Mockingbird” that have become a sign of spring in Lee’s home in Monroeville, Alabama.
These productions, which run until May 21 this year, have become a Monroeville mainstay over the past three decades and have been praised by professors at Auburn University for telling Lee’s story to audiences. thousands of visitors from everywhere and carried on the legacy of the precious prize. -winning novel. Brought to you by The Mockingbird Company cast, The Mockingbird Players, this spring season’s installments are led by Monroeville native Carly Jo Martens, who once played Scout. Most of the performers in the play are part-time actors, and the majority have ties to the town of around 5,800 people.
Act I of the stage production takes place outside the courthouse in the Otha Lee Biggs Amphitheater, with the audience then moving into the courtroom for the climactic second act. For each performance, 12 white males ages 18 and older—per 1935 Maycomb, Alabama laws—are invited to “serve” on the jury during Act II as Scout, Jem, and Dill watch and comment from the second floor balcony.
The coin receives rave reviews every year, and the banknotes have become a hot commodity. Auburn English professor emeritus Bert Hitchcock, who regularly included Lee’s book on the reading list of his Southern Literature class, was captivated by the performance during a trip to Monroeville a few years ago. .
“It’s as good as anything I’ve seen on stage,” said Hitchcock, a longtime educator whose Auburn legacy continues through the Hitchcock Graduate Award. “It’s amazing what they were able to hold on to there and that the novel had such staying power. The cast was superb and I take my hat off to them.
Wayne Flynt of Auburn, professor emeritus in the history department and longtime friend of Lee’s, is thrilled to see the book live across the room and serve as a boon to the city.
“He’s absolutely essential to Monroeville’s identity,” said Flynt, a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and author of 15 books. “Their identity and self-conception is about their writers and their preeminent writer, Harper Lee.”
Flynt’s second book about Lee, titled “Afternoons with Harper Lee,” will be released September 27 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. It recounts the 12-year friendship Flynt shared with Lee and his late wife, Dartie, and follows his 2017 book “Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee” which was published by HarperCollins.
“I’m not interested in summing up everyone’s Harper Lee fantasies, I’m interested in letting Harper Lee tell you, in her own words, who she is and tell her story,” Flynt said of the book to appear. “The extent to which a historian can deviate from the story he is telling makes it the best story. What I try to do is get away from the stories and let people see through the lens of what she’s saying and conclude whatever they want to conclude about her. My task is to let her be Harper Lee.
Flynt, who performed Lee’s eulogy after the writer died in 2016, said Lee never watched the play on any stage. However, he regularly brought Auburn students to Monroeville to experience it and still often visits the city.
Flynt was very complimentary about the production.
“On Broadway, it’s a show. In Monroeville, it’s an experience,” said Flynt, a renowned scholar of Southern history and an educator for more than 40 years. “Without a doubt, it’s transformative to watch it in that context in Monroeville. You can watch it on Broadway and not have half the experience of seeing it in Monroeville with a cast of amateur characters.
Flynt agrees that the three-plus-decade series serves as yet another illustration of the power of Lee’s legendary novel, which last December was voted “Best Book of the Last 125 Years” in a New York Times reader poll.
“I love the piece, and to me it maintains the ethical and moral implications of the book,” said Flynt, winner of numerous teaching and writing awards and former editor of the Encyclopedia of Alabama. . “The most obvious and important is, ‘Don’t judge a person until you walk in their shoes.'”
For another week this month and then again next spring, Scout, Jem and Dill will be back to their old antics for the play’s 32nd year – the 2023 season will run from April 10 to May 20 – and Atticus Finch will serve as his children’s North Star and humanity’s moral compass as he does his best to uphold the law in Maycomb. Hundreds of people will flock to tiny Monroeville to see the production and immerse themselves in one of the South’s most famous tales as Nelle Harper Lee’s legacy lives on as one of history’s most transcendent figures of literature.