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‘Mockingbird’ author compared hometown to Elvis’ Graceland

By JAY REEVES Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee railed against her Alabama hometown for trying to exploit her success in a letter that helps explain later legal battles involving commercialization of her novel.
The writer’s bitter assessment of Monroeville came in a three-page letter that is being sold with other items by the London-based Bonhams auctions.

Lee used Monroeville as the model for fictional Maycomb, Alabama, in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book about racial injustice in the Jim Crow South. But in a letter she wrote to a friend in 1993, Lee complained harshly about the town.
Referring to a sordid Southern family featured in some of William Faulkner’s works, Lee wrote: “You remember the Faulknerian prophecy — the Snopeses shall inherit the earth? They’ve already taken over Monroeville.

“What was once a tiny town of considerable character is now 6 times its size and populated by appalling people. Guess what: They are trying to turn Harper Lee into a tourist attraction like Graceland and Elvis Presley.”

Lee died in 2016 following publication of “Go Set a Watchman,” an early version of “Mockingbird” that became only her second published book.

In her letter to the late Charles Weldon Carruth, an old friend and fellow Alabama native, Lee bemoaned both an interstate sign pointing the way to Monroeville and the prevalence of mockingbird images in the city of about 5,900 people, which is located 90 miles north of Mobile.

Her most pointed criticism was aimed at the Monroe County Museum, which has displays about Lee and her book located in the old courthouse that was used as a set model for the film version of “Mockingbird” starring Gregory Peck.

“The hypocrites in charge, not one of whom I know, say they are doing this to ‘honor’ me. What they are doing is trying to drown me in their own bad taste, and are embarrassing me beyond endurance,” said Lee.

Lee later sued the museum for selling souvenirs related to her novel and using the title of the book for its website address. Her estate filed suit last year over the script for the current hit Broadway adaption of “Mockingbird,” starring Jeff Daniels as lawyer Atticus Finch.

Aside from the letter, the auction includes several sketches by Lee and a signed first edition of “Mockingbird.”

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