Saturday, March 11, 2006

A Tale of Two Writers

One of the nice things about Texas is the bookchain Half Price Bookstores. HPB began in Dallas over thirty years ago and now has some 80 stores around the country.

HPB is having a big 20% off sale this weekend. A friend and I spent time this afternoon just wandering around the aisles, piling up stacks of books to purchase.

While I was looking around, I happened to notice a display of classic novels. Sitting side-by-side were "Gone With the Wind" and "To Kill a Mockingbird."

I amused myself for several minutes flipping through the books. It occurred to me that both were written by Southern women (Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee) who, while they became famous for their novels, did not publish another book during their lifetimes (of course, Harper Lee is still alive and will be eighty next month).

I became sufficiently intrigued that I came home to do some research on these two one-book authors. The parallels are interesting:

*Both were born in the Deep South--Mitchell in 1900 in Atlanta, Georgia; and Lee in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama.
*Both were daughters of lawyers, and both were tomboys as children.
*Both families experienced financial difficulties while their daughters were growing up.
*Both attended colleges that were primarily known as women's schools. Mitchell attended Smith College in Massachusetts, and Lee attended Huntingdon in Alabama.

*Margaret Mitchell was 34 when MacMillan publisher Howard Latham visited Atlanta. She impulsively handed him the incomplete and sloppy manuscript that would later become GWTW. Her husband was not happy that she had turned over an unfinished manuscript, and Mitchell telegraphed Latham asking for its return. Latham convinced her to let him read it. With his help, it was published the following year when Mitchell was 36.

Harper Lee was 31 when she submitted her first draft of TKAM as a collection of short stories to the J. B. Lippincott Company. It would take another two and a half years to turn those short stories into the novel that was published in 1960. Lee was then 34.

*Both books were first novels set in the South and both became immediate best sellers. Each women was overwhelmed by her book's success.
*Both books won the Pulitzer Prize the year after they were published.
*Both books were soon turned into movies. GWTW in 1939, three years after being published, and TKAM in 1962, two years after being published.
*Both films won Oscars: GWTW garnered best picture, best director, best actress, best supporting actress, best art direction and best editing. TKAM captured best actor and best art direction. Both films won for best original adapted screenplay.
*Both women avoided publicity and interviews, preferring their privacy.
*Neither woman published a second novel during her lifetime (again, as of this date, Lee is still living).

I collected these parallels in a couple of hours of reading on the Internet. I confess I'm curious as to how many more similarities exist between the two Southern women who each wrote the best-selling novel of her day.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

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