Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Harper Lee

Hello and happy middle of the week dear readers, welcome to another Writer’s Quote Wednesday. Each week Colleen at Silver Threading invites bloggers to share their favorite quotes to motivate, encourage, and inspire one another to keep writing and working toward our goals. My contribution this week comes from the American novelist. Harper Lee.

nelle-harper-lee-xHarper Lee, known as Nelle, was born in the Alabama town of Monroeville. Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who served in the state legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and a precocious reader and enjoyed the friendship of her schoolmate and neighbor, the young Truman Capote.

After graduating from high school in Monroeville, Lee enrolled at the all-female Huntingdon College in Montgomery and then pursued a law degree at the University of Alabama. While there, she wrote for several student publications and spent a year as editor of the campus humor magazine, “Ramma-Jamma”. Though she did not complete the law degree, she studied for a summer in Oxford, England, before moving to New York in 1950, where she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines and BOAC.

Lee continued as a reservation clerk until the late 50s, when she devoted herself to writing. She lived a frugal life, traveling between her cold-water-only apartment in New York to her family home in Alabama to care for her father.

Having written several long stories, Harper Lee located an agent in November 1956. The following month at the East 50th townhouse of her friends Michael Brown and Joy Williams Brown, she received a gift of a year’s wages with a note: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”

Within a year, she had the first draft. Working with J. B. Lippincott & Co. editor Tay Hohoff, she completed To Kill a Mockingbird in the summer of 1959. Published July 11, 1960, the novel was an immediate bestseller and won great critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. It remains a bestseller with more than 30 million copies in print. In 1999, it was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a poll by the Library Journal.

From the time of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird until her death, Lee granted almost no requests for interviews or public appearances and, with the exception of a few short essays, published nothing further. Another novel, Go Set a Watchman, was written in the mid-1950s and controversially published in July 2015 as a “sequel” though it was later confirmed to be To Kill a Mockingbird‘s first draft.

Lee died in her sleep of a stroke on the morning of February 19, 2016, aged 89.

“I never loved reading until I feared I would lose it. One does not love breathing.”

// Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I was very saddened to hear of Harper Lee’s passing. I haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird but I do know that she was a woman who contributed a lot to the literary world and greater society. I ordered a copy of her book this morning and I hope to start reading it this weekend.

I’ve talked about this a couple of times but one of my biggest goals this year is to read more. When I was younger, from the moment I learned to read and then into my early 20s, I was an avid reader. I don’t know what happened but one day I just stopped. It just didn’t seem to matter much anymore. I was too busy trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in this big world. I guess I just didn’t have time to indulge in other world and the struggles of the characters in them.

I stopped reading and I lost something very important in my life. The strange thing is I didn’t realize what I had left behind. Not until recently.

I started reading again and I have found that I love it more than ever. I mentioned before that I had started again because I wanted to become a writer and a writer has to read but there is a secondary reason. I am getting older and I am beginning to worry about losing some of my mental….sharpness.

I have alway considered myself an intelligent person and the people around me tend to agree that that is so. I am proud of that fact. Being “the smart one” has become a part of my identity and I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t. I have begun to fear the effect of aging on the human brain and I’m doing what I can to maintain what I have. I may even learn a few new tricks to keep the wheel turning as long as the heart keeps ticking.

It is an irrational fear. If my mind is going to suffer any sort of decline than I have many, many, many more years before that will happen, if at all. I just think that going stagnant, that not using the neurons I have, probably won’t help. Reading forces me to pay attention, it utilizes my memory, helps me think in different ways, and feel things I might not in my day-to-day life. I think reading every single day might just give me life, the way that breathing does.

We breathe because we have to, because we need to live. I read because there is more to living than breathing. There is a mind to keep stimulated and a heart to keep feeling. A life without those things is no life at all.

A need like that goes deeper than love.


Original image by Minoru Nitta

Biographical information via Goodreads and Wikipedia


12 Replies to “Writer’s Quote Wednesday // Harper Lee”

  1. Passing away at 89 is a good long life, probably no reason to “regret”, but more to celebrate a life well-lived. Ah, yes, to live each day with a sense of moving forward, contributing to society, and just knowing one is so privileged to have the chance to put thoughts on record. That is a special thing. It is truly a gift.


  2. I understand. Several times in my life I’ve stopped reading to pick it again sometimes years later. The last time was your first reason, because i was writing a lot and you can’t write if you don’t read. To Kill a Mocking bird is one of my very favorite books. I plan on rereading it soon. I hope you enjoy it when you get a chance to read it.

    Oh, slightly off topic, I started doing strength exercises with dumbbells because I am getting close to the age that people start to lose muscle mass if they don’t exercise. Funny thing is the better my body feels the sharper my mind feels. But then, the mind is part of the body, there is a holistic way of looking at it, they are all interrelated. And I do more and more mental exercises for much the same reason. So you aren’t the only one, though I’m a bit older than you.


  3. Lisa, I figure if we don’t read… how do we know how to write? We all learn from each other and I think that is a good thing. I have read both of Harper Lee’s books. I must say, the second one, Go Set a Watchman, is quite telling as to how life really was when she wrote that novel. Out of this work, came the acclaimed, To Kill a Mockingbird. Please read both so you get a feel for how her writing evolved and changed. I really enjoyed that aspect. Good for you! Keep reading and writing. You are inspiring! <3


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