So here’s an uncomfortable confession:
In the earliest days when I was getting to know Janece Shaffer – the amazing woman who’s now my wife – she told me her favorite movie of all time was “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It was a difficult moment for me, but I took a deep breath and admitted to her I’d never seen the film.
But that wasn’t all. I took an even deeper breath and acknowledged I’d never read the book, either! Surely she would judge me as an illiterate boor, shallow and unworldly; but Janece found me worthy despite this egregious cultural lapse, and we’ve been together now for well over 20 years.
Two decades later the sad truth is I still haven’t seen the film and still haven’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
It’s not like I am poorly read. I was an English and theater major in college, and studied most of the great American and British novels and plays. I continue to read literary fiction and always have a book keeping me company. But somehow, Harper Lee eluded me. She wasn’t on any of the reading lists in my high school AP literature classes, and in college I skipped the basic level lit classes where I might have read Mockingbird.
Given this history, the wild excitement that greeted news of the discovery of and upcoming publication of “Go Set a Watchman” just hasn’t had the same resonance for me that I know it is having for Harper Lee’s millions of devoted readers. But I DO understand what a major role she plays in contemporary American literature; and I do understand that Mockingbird tells the powerful story of a great man standing up to the bigotry of his time and place and of the prejudices that thwarted justice for a black man in small town Alabama.
And so, despite my Harper Lee vacuum, I was delighted that Melita Easters came to the GPB studios to share with you and me her wonderful stories about Harper Lee and how she came to write “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
In researching her play “Nelle’s Story: The World of Harper Lee,” Melita uncovered intriguing information about the reclusive author. You’ll hear her stories as we talk. And you’ll also hear Melita read excerpts from her play.
By the way, even as “Go Set a Watchman” is released, a new production of Melita Easters play is now on stage at Synchronicity Theatre. It’s playing there thru July 19. For more information on the show, go to this link: http://www.synchrotheatre.com/
As for me, I now have TWO books sitting at the top of my reading list. It’s time at long last for me to join the millions of people who have been enthralled by “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I’ll start as soon as I can…and then, I’ll go straight to “Go Set a Watchman.” I know there’s a wonderful journey waiting for me.
As I mentioned, I love reading. But watching poetry recited aloud is a different kind of thrill. I went to my first poetry slam only one year ago, and watched remarkable high school students performing their poetry. As the Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam gets set to open at Emory University this coming week , two leaders of the festival, Shannon Matesky and Aurielle Marie, joined me in the studio to share their love of spoken word poetry. And they offer you and me a list of the spoken word poets worth our listening to if we’re just getting an initial knowledge of this exciting form of poetry.
Finally this week, we’re marking the start of our second year on the air with a look back at just a few of the highlights of the first year of “Two Way Street.” It’s been a truly thrilling year for me, and I thank all of you who have become regular listeners.