Christmas Day in book history

This post is part of a series.

To celebrate Christmas, let’s take a look at today’s date in authorly history.

reader's book of daysAs usual, I consulted A Reader’s Book of Days for today’s happenings, and found births and deaths of some literary figures unfamiliar to me.

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.

And on that inspiring note… happy holidays, friends. Stay tuned for my annual “best of” and “year in review” posts in the next few days.

2 Responses

  1. By not including Christmas eve you missed a chance to note the 100-year anniversary of John Muir’s death, a noteworthy date well-remembered by this column evoking his legacy when we need it most:
    http://www.resilience.org/stories/2014-12-24/john-muir-s-last-stand

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: