…& home to Mockingbirds
Story and Photos by Charlene Scott
The “Literary Capital of Alabama,” Monroeville, Alabama, will always be synonymous with Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, To Kill A Mockingbird, published in 1960. The author is by far Monroeville’s most recognized citizen. However, there have been several notable authors who were born there, including Mark Childress, Crazy in Alabama, and Cynthia Tucker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
Although this quintessential Southern town may have seen better days, Monroeville is nestled among the cornfields some thirty-five miles west of Atmore, Alabama. The town’s influence is immediately recognizable in Lee’s Mockingbird as the downtown bustles daily with small shops, restaurants, and two courthouses that dominate the main square.
Courthouse & Museum
The Old Monroe County Courthouse, built in 1903, now serves as a museum featuring Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. Nathan Carter, Public Relations Director at the courthouse museum, explained the building’s history and that of the surrounding area and, of course, about the town’s most famous resident, Harper Lee. “She wrote what she knew,” Nathan told me.
Outside the Old Courthouse is a memorial to Atticus Finch, the earnest attorney in Mockingbird. The monument was installed by the Alabama Bar Association to honor Atticus because he presented the ‘ideal model for nondiscriminatory justice.’
The Courtroom was replicated on a Hollywood soundstage for the 1962 movie of To Kill A Mockingbird. Lee said it “was a most unusual experience’ to see a film being made of her story. The author did enjoy showing actor, Gregory Peck, who portrayed Atticus Finch around Monroeville when the movie debuted there. The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck.
The character of Atticus Finch was loosely based on Lee’s father, AC, and the trials he handled while practicing in Monroeville.
After the publication of Mockingbird and the whirlwind publicity that followed, Lee granted few interviews. Lee said of her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “I just hope it’s a good book.”
In her later years, she rarely made public appearances or discussed her novel. Harper Lee died in 2016 at age 89.
Author Truman Capote was born in New Orleans and, at the age of three, came to live with cousins who lived next door to the Lee family. Only two years apart in age, Lee and Capote became good friends and later colleagues. While there has always been a suspension that Capote had some hand in the seminal work, but there is no evidence to support it
To Kill a Mockingbird, the Play
For the last twenty-six years, To Kill a Mockingbird has been produced at the Old Courthouse, where it served as the chief fundraiser for the museum.
The Sculpture Trail
Throughout the downtown sidewalks of Monroeville, visitors will notice small sculptures on buildings, benches, and pedestals. Each one celebrates one of the ten writers who were the basis for naming Monroeville ‘’Literary Capital of Alabama.”
Student sculptors from the University of Alabama were tasked with making the celebratory pieces. The trail hosts fourteen pieces since some of the sculptors were overly enthusiastic about the project.
Finding these little bronze statues set along the sidewalks is the perfect way to soak up the Southern feel of the downtown area. If you find them all, count yourself lucky, some hide in plain sight.
If you find yourself heading south from Montgomery on I-65, you might take a right when you reach Atmore and ride the back roads to Monroeville. There is much to see and learn in the Literary Capital of Alabama. You might even hear or see a Mockingbird.
About Charlene Scott—A love of travel and discovery fuels Charlene’s passion for sharing her adventures and travel stories. She specializes in solo travel. Her trips are well-planned journeys that provide maximum fulfillment and affordability. History is her special focus. Follow Charlene’s adventures at Roadrunner Journeys.~TPM