“Most books, like their authors, are born to die; of only a few books can it be said that death hath no dominion over them; they live, and their influence lives forever.”
Harper Lee: The literary one hit wonder. A woman who wrote what many consider the greatest novel of the 20th century and then never published another book.
Pose the question, “Why do you write?” to ten writers and I would venture a guess that eight of them would respond with, “because I can’t not write.”
But writing and having people read what you write isn’t the same thing, is it?
Perhaps the more honest answer to that question would be, “I write to be read. I want people to read what I write and tell me I’ve done it well.”
“I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”
~Harper Lee, 1964
Ever since the enormous success of To Kill a Mockingbird, millions of people have collectively wondered why Harper Lee never published another book. It’s fairly well documented that Lee was writing a second novel, The Long Goodbye, when according to her agent at the time, “her pen froze”.
I’ve never given much thought to why Harper Lee never published another novel. I suspect she’s written more stories but has chosen not to share them. I have the utmost respect for her disinterest in future publication. There are currently two Harper Lee biographies available on Amazon, neither of them written with the cooperation of Lee or authorized by her.
*In a 2011 interview with the Daily Telegraph, Lee’s close friend Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts said that Lee is in an assisted-living facility, wheelchair bound, partially blind and deaf, and suffering from memory loss. Butts also said that Lee told him why she never wrote again:
“Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill A Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”
Ah, to show that kind of restraint in a world that is constantly telling us what we have attained is never enough. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those rare books which has attained literary immortality. Its author’s recognition of this fact and her acknowledgment of that being enough puts her in the same category.
There is a skill and giftedness involved in saying what needs to be said in just the right way.
But perhaps what’s too often overlooked is the ability to know when you’ve said enough.
Why do you write?