If I had to pick one piece of art that had a lasting influence on who I am as a person, it would be To Kill a Mockingbird. My Mema gave it to me the summer before I started sixth grade, and it was the first time that I ever really thought about the inherent cruelty in people. I grew up in South Georgia- I knew racism, and I knew hate for all things “different”, but it wasn’t something that I ever really heard talked about. Except in the context of this amazing book.
To Kill a Mockingbird taught me that it wasn’t enough to simply not be racist, you had to live it. You had to be willing to say that it was wrong- you had to lose friends over it. And you had to be brave enough to give a chance to the ones who were different, because you might find out they were the best people around.
Harper Lee was never treated like the literary icon that she is. She was accused of not writing her own book (surely a man wrote that) and then she was horribly taken advantage of in her final years by an atrocious woman that she had the misfortune of trusting. I will never read her final book, because I know that she never meant for anyone to- it wasn’t even a book, but notes and predrafts of Mockingbird. So if you read that, and it tainted your view of Atticus Finch and Harper Lee, please go back and reread Mockingbird.
And know that she helped at least one little southern girl become an adult with no tolerance for ignorance and cruelty.