POSTSCRIPT: A Letter from Harper Lee

Each month, Anna Knoebel revisits letters from prominent writers and other artists to revive the dying art of letter writing. Anna is the editor and co-publisher of Abe’s Penny, a magazine of arts and literature delivered in the form of postcards.

In 1960, J. B. Lippincott Company published Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Though the book sold widely, won the Pulitzer Prize, and became a modern American classic, it is the only novel Lee ever published.

Tracy Kyser, a high school history teacher from Enterprise, AL, recently found this letter, along with two others, at an estate sale in Elba, AL, 100 miles from Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, AL. Lee responded to Mrs. L.H. Hudson, a member of a Daughters of the Confederacy book club, “just days after the publication,” Kyser said. “This [letter] was written a long time before [Lee] won the Pulitzer Prize, a long time before the movie was made.”

In the letter, Lee addresses the question about where the novel is set, in the fictional Maycomb County: “The only answer I can give you is that Maycomb County is in my heart and the Landing is in my imagination. If, in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I persuaded you that those places are real, that means I have succeeded in my profession, which is writing fiction.” Then, she playfully drew a map.

Transcript:

Dear Mrs. Hudson:

Thank you for your kind note. You ask me where Maycomb County is, where the Landing is — the only answer I give you is that Maycomb County is in my heart and the Landing is in my imagination. If, in To Kill a Mockingbird, I persuaded you that these places are real, that means I have succeeded in my profession, which is writing fiction.

Sincerely yours,

Harper Lee

[handwritten] Here is your map:

Perhaps unrelated: In 2004, Harper was the 887th most popular name for girls. In 2010, it was the 119th most popular.

***
— Anna Knoebel has been writing letters since she was about eight years old, often to her grandfather, who would send them back edited. She worked in publicity at MGM Studios in Los Angeles and as the Managing Editor of zingmagazine before co-founding Abe’s Penny with her sister, Tess. She lives in New York with her husband and daughter.

Images: Tracy Kyser’s Harper Lee letter; Time Life Pictures/Getty Images: Harper Lee in the courthouse in Monroeville, Ala., May 1961.

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