Harper Lee’s iconic book ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ lives on in rural Alabama through the production of Spring Games

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At the end of a stretch of winding, winding country road in central rural Alabama lies a square similar to those found in countless other small American cities.

Except it’s not just any other square. It is that space where legendary Alabama writer Nelle Harper Lee spent her childhood summers and was inspired to write her iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning book “To Kill A Mockingbird.” It is the epicenter of the Southern Literary World and now serves as a time capsule for the days long ago when Scout Finch saw his dutiful father, Atticus, fight for the truth and the rights of all.

The Old Monroe County Courthouse, which serves as the center of the square, first opened in 1904, 22 years before Lee was born and nearly six decades before the adventures of Scout, Jem, Dill and Boo Radley were woven into American literature. It still towers over the landscape and has now doubled as a museum and backdrop for productions of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” which has become a sign of spring at Lee’s home in Monroeville, Alabama.

These productions – which this year run until May 21 – have become a cornerstone of Monroeville for the past three decades and have been praised by Auburn University professors for bringing Lee’s story to thousands of visitors from far and near and passing on the legacy of the precious award-winning novel. Presented by The Mockingbird Company’s troupe The Mockingbird Players, this spring season’s episodes are directed by Carly Jo Martens of Monroeville, who once played scout. Most of the play’s performers are part-time actors, and the majority are affiliated with the city at around 5,800.

The first act of the stage production takes place outside the courthouse in the Otha Lee Biggs Ampitheater, where the audience then moves into the courtroom for the culminating second act. For each performance, 12 white men aged 18 and over – in accordance with the laws of Maycomb, Alabama – are asked to “serve” on the jury during the second act, while Scout, Jem and Dill watch and comment from the second floor balcony.

The play gets rave reviews every year and tickets have become a hot commodity. Auburn English professor emeritus Bert Hitchcock, who regularly included Lee’s book on the reading list for his graduate Southern literature class, was thrilled with the performance when he traveled to Monroeville a few years ago.

“It’s as good as anything I’ve seen on stage,” said Hitchcock, a longtime teacher whose Auburn legacy continues through the Hitchcock Graduate Award. “It is incredible what they have been able to preserve there and that the novel has had such endurance. The actors were excellent and my hat is off to them. ”

Auburn’s Wayne Flynt, professor emeritus of the Department of History and longtime friend of Lee, is pleased to see the book live on through the play and serve as a blessing to the city.

“It’s absolutely central to Monroeville’s identity,” said Flynt, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and author of 15 books. “Their self-identity and self-perception is about their writers and their prominent author, Harper Lee.”

Flynt’s second book about Lee, entitled “Afternoons with Harper Lee”, will be released on September 27 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.com. It tells of the 12-year friendship that Flynt shared with Lee and his late wife, Dartie, and serves as a follow-up to his 2017 book “Mockingbird Songs: My Friendship with Harper Lee,” published by HarperCollins.

“I’m not interested in summarizing everyone’s fantasies about Harper Lee, I’m interested in letting Harper Lee tell you, in her own words, who she is and telling her story,” Flynt said of the upcoming book. “The degree to which a historian can get out of the way of the story they tell gives the best story. What I’m trying to do is get myself out of the way of the stories and just let people see through the lens of, what she says and conclude what they want to conclude about her. My job is just to let her be Harper Lee. “

Flynt, who performed Lee’s praise after the author’s death in 2016, said Lee never saw the play on any stage. However, he regularly brought Auburn students to Monroeville to experience it and still frequently visits the city.

Flynt was very praiseworthy about the production.

“On Broadway, it’s a show. In Monroeville, it’s an experience,” said Flynt, a well-known Southern history researcher and teacher for more than 40 years. “Without a doubt, it’s transformative to see it in that context in Monroeville. You can watch it on Broadway and not have half the experience of watching it in Monroeville with an amateur group of characters. “

Flynt agrees that the play’s more than three decades of running serve as yet another illustration of the power of Lee’s legendary novel, which last December was named “Best Book of the Last 125 Years” in a New York Times reader poll.

“I love the play, and for me it maintains the ethical and moral implications of the book,” said Flynt, winner of several teaching and writing awards and former editor of the Encyclopedia of Alabama. “The most obvious and important is: ‘Do not judge a person until you have walked around in his shoes.'”

For another week this month and then again next spring, Scout, Jem and Dill will be back to their old jokes for the play’s 32nd year – the 2023 season runs from April 10 to May 20 – and Atticus Finch will serve as his children’s nerd. The moral compass of the star and humanity as he does his best to uphold the law of Maycomb. Hundreds of people will flock to little Monroeville to see the production and immerse themselves in one of the South’s most famous tales, while Nelle Harper Lee’s legacy lives on as one of the most transcendent figures in literary history.

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