This post is part of a series.
To celebrate Christmas, let’s take a look at today’s date in authorly history.
Born in 1924: Rod Serling (Stories from the Twilight Zone), Syracuase, N.Y.
Born in 1925: Carlos Castaneda (The Teachings of Don Juan), Cajamarca, Peru
Died in 1938: Karel Čapek (R.U.R. [Rossum’s Universal Robots]), 48, Prague
Died in 1956: Robert Walser (Jakob von Gunten), 78, Herisau, Switzerland
But of real interest I found one anecdote. In 1956,
Kept from going home to Alabama for Christmas by her job as an airline ticket agent, Harper Lee spent the holiday in New York with Broadway songwriter Michael Brown and his wife, Joy, close friends she had met through Truman Capote. Because Lee didn’t have much money they had agreed to exchange inexpensive gifts, but when they woke on Christmas morning the Browns presented her with an envelope containing this note: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” Given the humbling gift of “paper, pen, and privacy,” Lee quit her job and set to work, and by the end of February she had written a couple of hundred pages of a manuscript that was first called Go Set a Watchman, then Atticus, and finally To Kill a Mockingbird.
That’s the stuff right there. I had heard (or rather read) this story before, of how Lee got the chance to write her novel, the only one she’d publish and one which has made such a difference in this country and the world over a number of years now. But the detail I hadn’t heard or at least hadn’t retained was that she had the bulk of her manuscript completed by February of a “year off” that started at Christmas. Now that’s impressive! For all those who were frustrated by NaNoWriMo last month, chew on this: Harper Lee’s masterpiece was written in two months. Whew.