Paul Theroux on Harper Lee: "She's very feisty- feisty southern woman."

Credit: Getty Images via NPR Books

Paul Theroux on Harper Lee

July 9, 2015

Paul Theroux joined Jim and Margery to discuss Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird and it's cousin Go Set A Watchman (out July 14th). 

To Kill a Mockingbird made Harper Lee famous and in turn Lee made her hometown, Monroeville, Alabama famous; the town on which Maycomb County is based.

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee describes Maycomb County as a  “tired old town.” In fiction it is frozen in the mid 1930’s, worn down by the Great Depression. But it’s real life counterpart is still chugging along, but barely.  

With Harper Lee’s second novel about to hit the bookstores, travel writer Paul Theroux went to the town that  Lee  made famous. He’s written about how Monroeville has--and hasn’t--changed for the latest issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

Theroux anticipates that many readers will pick up Go Set a Watchman out of sheer curiosity. In the years between Mockingbird and Watchman, Harper Lee has attempted two books, and completed several magazine articles, but ultimately gave up writing. Perhaps she didn't have the soul of a writer. Perhaps she had simply done what she had set out to do. Ultimately, "she was overwhelmed by the publicity," Theroux reckons. 

Perhaps what is most interesting about the genetic makeup of To Kill A Mockingbird is how much it became a product of its two editors, as it was of Lee's."Her editors became her friends," Theroux shares. "They never left her. The worked with her constantly to lick the thing into shape. In many ways, it's a confection of these three people." 

Readers will have to wait until July 14th to see if Go Set a Watchman strikes the same strange, extraordinary chord. 


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