Harper Lee has been making headlines with the news that a novel she wrote in the mid-1950s has been rediscovered and will be published this summer. In Go Set a Watchman, a grown-up Scout Finch returns to her southern hometown, Maycomb, twenty years after the events in To Kill a Mockingbird unfold. What better place to celebrate this literary milestone than by visiting Monroeville, Alabama, Lee’s hometown and the model for Maycomb. Surrounded by cotton fields and red clay roads, this tiny town has been designated as the “Literary Capital of Alabama.”
– Monroeville residents weren’t impressed when To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, believing that the world would have little interest in their local happenings. Despite the book garnering a Pulitzer Prize, it took a visit from popular actor Gregory Peck—who starred as Atticus Finch in the film version—to convince them that Monroeville was officially on the map.
– Monroeville is home to one of the most famous courtrooms in the world. Time has stood still at the Old Monroe County Courthouse, where Lee used to watch her lawyer father practice his profession and later used it as the setting for one of the most important scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird. An exact replica of the courtroom was re-created on a Hollywood sound stage.
– Order in the court is restored annually. Every spring an all-local acting troupe known as the Mockingbird Players stages a two-act play based on Lee’s novel, with the second part taking place in the famed courtroom. Audience members are part of the play, acting as trial spectators by taking a seat in the courtroom’s main floor—or in the balcony like Dill, Scout, and her brother, Jem, do in the story. (Be sure to plan ahead. The play sells out fast.)
– Harper Lee isn’t the only famous writer from Monroeville. Truman Capote was the inspiration for Dill, Scout’s scrappy sidekick. Or so Capote liked to tell it. Now a museum, the Courthouse has an exhibit highlighting his childhood in Monroeville, where he spent much of his first ten years living with relatives, and how it influenced his fiction.
– Fictional Atticus Finch is recognized by the Alabama Bar Association. As the first of its Legal Milestones monuments, the organization donated a bronze plaque, located on the courthouse’s south lawn, in tribute to the “Lawyer-Hero.”
– Jane Austen’s novels inspired Harper Lee. In an interview Lee gave soon after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, she revealed that her aim as a writer was to emulate Austen by chronicling the “rich social pattern” of small-town Southern life.
[Photo © Monroe County Heritage Museums]