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A History of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: How Harper Lee's Tale of Courage and Conviction Achieved Immortality

A History of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: How Harper Lee's Tale of Courage and Conviction Achieved Immortality

This season, one of literature's most celebrated works, Harper Lee's To KIll A Mockingbird has landed on Broadway in a new adaptation by legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.

Written during the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement, at a time when Jim Crow laws were still in effect in many Southern states, To Kill A Mockingbird's still resonant story holds up a mirror to the ingrained culture of racism in the Deep South.

Literary scholars have speculated that the novel was shaped by two seminal events during the Civil Rights era in Alabama: Rosa Parks' refusal to relinquish her seat on a city bus to a white man, sparking the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and riots which took place at the University of Alabama after the school admitted two students of color.

Scholars have also noted the historical significance of the novel's time period. Written and published during the most significant era of conflict and social progress in the South since the Civil War and Reconstruction, Lee's perspective from the 1950s echoed the tensions and fears of the novel's characters in 1930s Alabama.

The book's lasting impact became most notably useful in the 1960s, where it would become one of the factors behind the success of the civil rights movement. The novel's themes of hope and courage amid hatred arrived at just the right moment to help a changing nation grapple with the longstanding legacy of racism in the United States.

Despite early warnings that the novel would not sell well, Mockingbird would go on to become a sensation. Not all of the reception was positive, however, and to this day a heated debate remains surrounding the book's content and use of racial epithets, as well as its much contended one-dimensional treatment of its characters of color.

A mainstay on schools' reading lists since its publication, a 2008 survey of secondary books indicated the novel is the most widely read book in the United States for grades 9-12.

Despite the story's popularity in classrooms throughout the last 50+ years, it remains a potent source of controversy. Beginning as early as 1963 - and as recently as 2017 - Mockingbird has been regularly challenged by parents and educators alike for its racial slurs, profanity, and open discussion of rape. The American Library Association listed Mockingbird was as 21 of the 100 most frequently challenged books of the early aughts.

Thanks to its enduring popularity, the world has seen a number of adaptations of the novel. Most notably, the book was adapted into the classic 1962 film, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. With a $2 million dollar budget, the film was a huge success, raking in more than $20 million at the box office. It also made a splash at the Academy Awards, earning five nominations and taking home trophies for Best Actor, Best Art Direction, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Prior to Aaron Sorkin's current adaptation, the novel was adapted as a play by Christopher Sergel, which debuted in 1990 in Monroeville. Each May an immersive production of the play is staged on the county courthouse grounds. Locals make up the cast and white male audience members are chosen at the intermission to make up the jury. During the courtroom scene the production moves into the Monroe County Courthouse, where the audience is racially segregated.

Sergel's play toured in the UK starting at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in 2006 ,and again in 2011 starting at the York Theatre Royal. It opened the 2013 season at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London where it played to full houses. The production returned to the venue to close the 2014 season, prior to a UK tour.

A controversial earlier draft titled Go Set a Watchman, was released on July 14, 2015. This draft, which was completed in 1957, is set 20 years after the time period depicted in To Kill a Mockingbird but is not a continuation of the narrative. The story follows an adult Scout who upon visiting her father, Atticus Finch, in Maycomb is confronted by the intolerance in her community.

Though some believed that the book was meant to be a sequel to the original novel as part of an intended trilogy, literary scholars have debunked the claim, stating that Watchman is merely an earlier draft of Mockingbird, citing overlapping passages in the two books.

The long history of Harper Lee's timeless novel brings us to the present day, where Tony-nominee Jeff Daniels stars as Atticus Finch in the Broadway premiere of the beloved story. In the grand tradition of Mockingbird's knack for controversy, this stage adaptation saw its fair share of heavy weather on its road to the Great White Way, with a prolonged legal battle between the show's producer and the Harper Lee estate threatening to derail the production.

The author's estate sued producer Scott Rudin's Production Company Rudinplay over the script, claiming that it deviated too much from the novel, and violated a contract which stipulated that the characters and plot must remain faithful to the spirit of the book. The main concern in the complaint filed in Alabama federal court had to do with the interpretation of the main character, Atticus Finch.

After much litigation, Rudin and Lee's estate reached an agreement on May 10, 2018, amicably settling the dispute, and giving Sorkin's adaptation its shot on Broadway. The production celebrated its opening night on December 13, 2018 and received positive reviews from critics.

The impact of To Kill A Mockingbird throughout the decades is immeasurable. It was voted the "Best Novel of the 20th century" by readers of the Library Journal. It is listed as number five on the Modern Library's Reader's List of the 100 Best Novels in the English language since 1900 and number four on the rival Radcliffe Publishing Course's Radcliffe Publishing Course's 100 Best Board Picks for Novels and Nonfiction.

The novel appeared first on a list developed by librarians in 2006 who answered the question, "Which book should every adult read before they die?" followed by the Bible and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The British public voted in the BBC's Big Read broadcast to rank it 6th of all time in 2003. BBC - The Big Read. Two thousand readers at voted it the 'Greatest Novel of All Time' in 2008.

It boasts more than 50 million copies in print and has been translated into more than 40 languages, second only to the Bible in the number of copies printed to date. It has never been out of print in hardcover or paperback.

Harper Lee's timeless tale of courage and conviction against incredible odds has captured the minds and hearts of readers young and old for upward of 50 years. Like the characters that populate its world, the story has surmounted incredible adversity and intolerance on its road to literary immortality, embodying Atticus' famous advice, that "Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."

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From This Author Alexa Criscitiello

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