At the end of a stretch of curvy, winding country roads in rural central Alabama sits a plaza much like ones that can be found in countless other small American towns.
Except it’s not just any other square. It is the square where legendary Alabama scribe 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 to the days of yore when Scout Finch watched her duty-driven father Atticus fight for the truth and the rights of all.
The former Monroe County Courthouse, which serves as the core of the square, first opened in 1904, 22 years before Lee’s birth and nearly six decades before the adventures of Scout, Jem, Dill and Boo Radley became a part of American literature. Still towering over the field, it now doubles as a museum and backdrop for productions of the “To Kill a Mockingbird” play that has become a sign of spring at Lee’s home in Monroeville, Alabama.
Those productions, which this year will run through May 21, have become a mainstay in Monroeville for the past three decades and have been praised by Auburn University professors for bringing Lee’s story to thousands of visitors from all over the world. parts and continue the legacy of the prized prize. .-winning novel. Presented by The Mockingbird Company’s The Mockingbird Players, this spring season’s installments are being directed by Monroeville native Carly Jo Martens, who once played Scout. Most of the performers in the play are part-time actors, and most have ties to the city of approximately 5,800 people.
Act I of the stage production takes place outside the courthouse at the Otha Lee Biggs Amphitheatre, and then the audience moves into the courtroom for the climactic second act. For each performance, 12 white males age 18 and older, in accordance with the Maycomb Laws of 1935, Alabama, are asked to “serve” on the jury during Act II while Scout, Jem, and Dill watch and comment from the background. second floor. balcony.
The play receives rave reviews every year, and tickets have become a fashionable commodity. Auburn English professor emeritus Bert Hitchcock, who regularly put Lee’s book on the reading list for his graduate Southern literature class, was wowed by his performance when he took a trip to Monroeville a few years ago.
“It’s as good as anything I’ve ever seen on stage,” said Hitchcock, a lifelong educator whose legacy at Auburn continues through the Hitchcock Graduate Award. “It’s amazing what they’ve been able to preserve there and that the novel has had so much staying power. The cast was magnificent, and I take my hat off to them.”
Auburn’s Wayne Flynt, a professor emeritus in the Department of History and a longtime friend of Lee’s, is pleased to see that the book lives on through the play and serves as a blessing to the town.
“It’s absolutely central to the identity of Monroeville,” said Flynt, a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and author of 15 books. “Her self-identity and self-concept is about her writers and her preeminent writer, Harper Lee.”
Flynt’s second book on Lee, titled “Afternoons with Harper Lee,” will be published on September 1. 27 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.com. It chronicles the 12-year friendship 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” which was published by HarperCollins.
“I’m not interested in summing up everyone’s fantasies about Harper Lee, I’m interested in letting Harper Lee tell you, in her own words, who she is and tell her story,” Flynt said of the upcoming book. “The degree to which a historian can get out of the way of the story he is telling is the best story. What I try to do is get out of the way of stories and let people see through the lens of what she’s saying and draw whatever they want from her. My task is to just let her be Harper Lee.”
Flynt, who performed Lee’s eulogy after the writer passed away in 2016, said Lee never saw the play on any stage. He did, however, regularly bring Auburn students to Monroeville to experience it and still frequently visits the city.
Flynt was highly complimentary of the production.
“On Broadway, it’s a show. In Monroeville, it’s an experience,” said Flynt, a renowned scholar and educator of Southern history for more than 40 years. “It’s certainly transformative to see it in that context in Monroeville. You can see it on Broadway and not have half the experience of seeing it in Monroeville with an amateur cast of characters.”
Flynt agrees that the work spanning more than three decades serves as another illustration of the power of Lee’s legendary novel, which was voted “Best Book of the Past 125 Years” in a New York Times readers’ poll last December. YorkTimes.
“I love the play and, to me, it upholds the ethical and moral implications of the book,” said Flynt, winner of numerous teaching and writing awards and former editor of the Encyclopedia of Alabama. “The most obvious and important one is: ‘Don’t judge a person until you’ve put yourself in their shoes.'”
For another week this month and then again next spring, Scout, Jem and Dill will be back to their old antics for the play’s 32nd year (the 2023 season will run from April 10 to May 20) and Atticus Finch will serve as North of their children. Star and humanity’s moral compass as she does her best to uphold the law in Maycomb. Hundreds of people will flock to tiny Monroeville to see the production and immerse themselves in one of the South’s most celebrated tales, as Nelle Harper Lee’s legacy lives on as one of the most influential figures in literary history.