tv Panel Discussion on Harper Lee CSPAN September 27, 2015 5:00pm-5:54pm EDT
from the first ever mississippi book festival that took place in august, a panel discussion on harper lee and the publication of ""go set a watchman". it starts now [applause] >> thank you. i like being called an expert on something. that's very nice. so, like crow shed, i'm ammann -- amanda wilson. welcome to the mississippi bob festival. i'm going to quickly intro does my panelists and then we'll jump flight and the last ten minutes is for audience questions is it my panel. first is sterling plumpp, a poet and essayist, the author of 14 books. the editor of two anthologies.
professor emary tis at the university of illinois chicago where the served in the english department. most lieutenant he served as a visiting prefer in the master of fine arts -- the rye sendent -- recipient awards. the 2014 american book award for literature. he is writer in residence at the [applause] >> next is beth ann fennelly. she was named the 2011 outstanding liberal arts teacher of the year at ole miss. he work has been included in the best american poetry series, published three poetry books. one won the kenyan prize.
her second book and third books were published in 2004 and 2008. she has also published a book of nonfiction in 2006 with norton. thank you. [applause] >> next is 'er madden. the author of the trilogy of novels. the trilogy followed madden's first novel, the story "offsides" and followed up by a buying agraph of harper lee. in between came a -- articles in "the new york times," this "washington post" and others.
welcome, kerry madden. [applause] >> and last but not least, ralph eubanks. he is a 2007 guggenheim fellow and recipient of the swartz fellowship 0 at the new american foundation. this spring he will be at the visite scholar in southern studies at milsap college. the lives in d.c. thank you for coming. >> so, we're going to jump right in, and in light of "go set a watchman's" recent release which is harper lee's new novel, it's
raised a lot of issues regarding race, since "to kill a mockingbird." at tuesday is perceived in the new book as segue rare racist. we're going to talk into that area. so my first question i'll read quick lay harper lee quote to jump off of: she told said: my book -- "to kill a mockingbird --" has a universal theme it's not a racial novel. it portrays an aspect of civilization. i tried to show the concept over enthusiasm soul reduce teed simple terms. a novel move man consciousness andment she did not see her book as a racial novel put if you ask american readers about their favorite books on civil rights or race it's usually at the top of the list. i want to ask the panelists why do they consider tout america's equality novel when it's not about that out all, at least in harper lee's views. don't have to good down the line.
you can just speak up. >> i think lot of it has to do with the time that "to kill a mockingbird" came out. since its release in 1960, and then the film version 1962. because of what was going on historically at that time, i think it gets really tied in with all of that. when i was working on my piece for "time," on "go set a watchman," what i found, i just randomly asked people, what year was "to kill a mockingbird" set in. not a single person i asked said 1935. so i think we conflate the timing of it, and because of the time, we often think of it must play civil rights novel. that's one of the reasons. also i think the way that harper lee work with folklor and myths. >> i think i agree it was the
time and i think also with "go set a watchman" and what happened in charleston, it's these -- her books came out at these explosive periods, and that why people think of it as a novel of -- >> civil rights novel. >> it's possible that harper lee notice correct in her assertion. >> i was hoping somebody would say that. >> not the first time a writer doesn't have a good sense of his or her own project. it is unlawful below inequality, racial inequality at the core othe novel. she claims it's not is curious. >> anything to add? >> i think it's at built more subtle. 1991 and 1995, the anc invited me to south africa. revolution was taking place.
there were a lot of of discussion, and one gentleman -- said to me directly, we will address the issue of race more directly in a country of black majority than you will ever address it in america, country of white majority. i think america is somewhat inn denial. you have a -- in tee nile. you have a -- in denial. you have a black man on trial for whipping a white man, and a white southerner defending him, and an innocent narrator, who
seemed not to have been poisoned by the racist environment. i know people call it -- supposed to address the -- whatever is at the base of civil right is. i just feel -- i taught for 30 years, and i know how you are supposed to be polite, but america is absolutely in denial about race. it's absolutely in denial. i live in chicago, the mothers of these black boys that are being shot by policemen, you tell them, that's not race. nonsense. they're black, they're shot. i thought it was a brilliant novel.
mischaracterized by its creator. >> along that line, in "go set a watchman," atticus opposed integration and reader reacted viscerally to this any version of atticus finch, including juan phenomenon fry who named their son atticus and changed the name. so why did readers respond to strongly. what should readers readers whoe atticus finch or what they human being he represents in "to kill a mockingbird" do with this new atticus who is not nearly as into equality as the original. >> atticus finch is part of the
southern myth. atticus finch has become very real. there's a plaque to atticus finch at the courthouse, and i was in monroeville for the alabama literary festival, and after the performance of "to kill a mockingbird," with a group of my fellow writers, and we were stan being the statue, talking about him as if he actually existed. it's that idea that what atticus finch presented for the south -- represented nor south. these values that we wanted to have, white southerners wanted to have, and atticus finch was -- served as a proxy for a lot of that, and we also refer to our southern heroes by -- he's a real atticus finch. that the highest compliment and that compliment is now gone. with this change in who atticus finch is. i article those are two
fictional universes and they're not on a continuum. based on the way that -- if you really study mockingbird and study watchman, they overlap a little bit but there's also this bizarreo quality to watchman. >> we have had a request to speak more into in the microphone. >> i think also gregory peck's portrayal made him sort of this iconic white savior. aim speaking -- okay. so, it's also important to remember that in "to kill a mockingbird," he -- a woman i heard speak, nance -- nancy anderson, said that in "to kill a mockingbird" he wasn't at the school when scout was playing the ham. he was home reading a book. he was human also in "to kill a
mockingbird." he wasn't this perfect -- and he is fiction, too. so, i think i -- i do think gregory peck and just we see him as somebody who makes compromises also in "to kill a mockingbird." >> i think that there's a sense of betrayal for a lot of people who really worshiped atticus and did accept him not just as a character but as a symbol. maybe in addition, some many of us came to the book as younger readers. is was one of the first serious book is loved and still love and it's lard to mesh those two kinds of knowledge and then look in hindsight at mockingbird and think, what are we supposed to make of it now? one thing i tend to think about is the different age of the point of view character, which is to say, in mockingbird, scout is young and looking at her father through the point of view of a girl, and she does see it
more simply and the older scout is looking through the point of view as an adult, and it's more nuanced. i don't actually think that atticus seems mortal all that much in mockingbird. one shot their dog is dead in the street. he can do anything. and gregory peck, you know, who harper lee called yummy, certainly adds to that way we view atticus, and it is hard to wrap our new knowledge with the old knowledge. >> well, speaking of "go set a watchman," let's talk about the release of that novel. the official story is that harper lee's lawyer found it in a safe deposit box. >> yeahing are right. >> and that it is a functionally first draft of "to kill a mockingbird" that her editor said, pull out some aspects of that and rewrite it entirely and it took two years to turn "to
kill a "go set a watchman" into "to kill a mockingbird." so i wanted to ask all of you what you thought about the release of the novel, how it's been handled and the publishing of it in general. should it have been published at all? that sort of thing. >> well, would argue, no. i think it's something that should have been left in an archive for scholars to study. the other thing i know that it is also -- it was not editthed, and when if read "go set a watchman" i knew as an editor that her editor says these flashback taz childhood, he's are really working. why don't you go back and use that as part of the way that you are constructing your narrative. i'm almost certain that's -- well, we know that's what happened. and once you know that, it's
hard to read "go set a watchman" and not think of it as you're reading a rough draft. at least for me as an editor -- i have opinion with other whom who don't have the editorial mindset and they're perfectly fine with it. they're seeing it like a separate fictional universe almost. a different macon than the macon of 1935, and that's -- i understand that and i respect that. but i also think, as i was trying to write about watchman, i was trying to get a copy of it in advance and i cooperate itch was told at only five people at harper collin had read the map uscript, and that's something we know about six weeks before a publication, kind of -- as an editor and publishing professional, made me -- made me ears prick up a. bit.
>> well, i mean, what appreciate about it being published -- it is confusing, the different stories that have come out of monroeville. what i have liked about the publication of "go set a watchman" is we discover how a young writer finds her voice, and that is most important. how she found her voice, and it's also a novel -- wayne flint called it's novel of redemption and reconciliation, trying to find a way to find peace, seeing atticus as a -- through an adult's eyes and taking away the hero worship of childhood. but i get the -- i get it. but i also -- it was exciting for me as somebody who wrote about here as a biographer, to see how she came to write it, and then to imagine, i wish we had the letters if wish there
were letters we could see their relationship. >> kay has harper here's editor. >> i read the piece on "go set a watchman" and end with a beautiful line, it's a sin "to kill a mockingbird," suggesting the new book should not have been published. i have to say part of me agreed, part of me thinks if i heard a second manuscript existed and someone decided not to publish it i would be furious. let me, i want to read. let me decide. i would say it does sound lick a p.r. concoction that they found the book in the safety deposit box. that all seems very unlikely to me. but coming to it from the writers' perspective, i think those who love mockingbird tend to think thissing into sprang into creation and was odawned and we forget it was being written bay 26-year-old
terrified mom, every day facing the blank page, and trying to work her way forward in the dark. so, this is also a writer, remember, who didn't have publishing history before this. the had just a hand of short stories. then publishes a book that wins a pulitzer prize. what is she going to write next? imagine the pressure. and she was writing the whole time. i actually took a lot of comfort in thinking, she said what she had to say and was done. then i read marsha milts' biography, the mockingbird next door, and talking about the fact the whole time harper lee was writing. so must have been painful for her to be writing and never to publish. so then i think, why now? why take those manuscript, that she notice jettying and can't, and who are we to say she shouldn't and also she is 89. maybe she doesn't care what we
think anymore. >> speaking of cat tick cuss, kerry mentioned he -- that "go set a watchman" is really a lot about a child discovering her hero is not as heroic as she thought, and that very closely mirrors american readers' experience. see he is not mythological person i thought he was and i want to talk about na respect to current events events events and race relations in america and seems when i talk to readers they say things like, i loved "to kill a mockingbird." i'm not a racist. that book really represents to people maybe a false sense of how far we have come, when we
haven't really. so i heard people say that atticus finch is not the hero we love but the hero we deserve in "go set a watchman." so do you think that's true? having a more realistic portrayal of a white man in the '30s, as you said, in "go set a watchman" is what we need now as opposed to the atticus of "to kill a mockingbird." >> you are giving the look -- >> i know. >> it's difficult. i'm a southerner. in fact i was born in clinton, mississippi, grew up on a plantation, grew up with emma till. race is a very difficult thing to try to discuss. let me just begin with one
comment. stokley carmichael, an activist who was both a freedom rider and an organizer for sncc, and he relates an incident where he was beaten by the klan in alabama, in fact he was kicked. and he says, five years later he was in washington, dc, and a young man tapped him on he shoulder and said, are you mr. carmichael? and he said, yes. and the gentleman said, i'm the one who kicked you in alabama. i was wrong. part of the novel, atticus
finch, whether or not he is a realism of the '30s is more important than an idealized version of the 1960s. i'm not so sure that matters. for the simple fact i was a very distraught young man when jfk was killed. by the time i was 26, i knew that jfk never would have gotten a civil rights bill passed. i don't know. there's something about johnson i could never like. something about johnson that looked like a racist, sounded like a racist, but get the legislation through. so i don't know how to read these impressions.
harper lee is a brilliant novelist. i ten to look at her this way. an incredible novelist, deserves all of the accolades for "to kill a mockingbird." when you reach that height -- i don't feel you write enough novels or not. very few novelists in the 20th 20th century has written a book as well or as important. it's just that simple. we are discussing race and -- the mississippi valley state in the delta, i don't know anything about the opinions of whites. but i do know that, you know in greenwood -- i go to a restaurant, and the people treat my mind. know what i mean? -- treat me kind.
now what i mean? but i almost have a heart attack. i go in there and all of the people cooking are black. and i'm the only black diner. i'm trying to -- i don't know that race or not. i don't know what's getting in my head, but it does not look like or feel like anything has changed over the last 30 years, although you have a -- any number of black elected officials in what this little town, but i'm sitting there eating, and whenever i go for some reason, they won't let any other black people in except for me or something. i'm the only one there dining. sitting up there eating chicken. i really don't know how to discuss race in america.
[applause] >> let me be honest with you. i do not know how to discuss race in america because i don't -- you know, the only president that i think i have any kind of love for is the one that is reported to have cancer, jimmy carter. the only one that seemed like he would tell the truth. i can't -- [laughter] >> i can't -- i'm not a president george bush basher. i just thought he was bold and brazen. i didn't agree with him. but i don't know what has happened -- i know in greenwood,
you have color academy, indiana nola, and tame i'm supposed to celebrate with the citizens of the place in a b.b. king museum and they have done everything too keep the races separate. i've tried to say, what are they doing? i'm not that naive. built an academy that one or two black people at most, and at the same time all we need to lock arms and wasn't b.b. king a great singer? and the other thing that i find very interesting about mississippi, they say that muddy water was born in rosenthal, and i go out there and people say, no, no, he wasn't been here. he was born down there in some field in the house no longer exists. i mean, you -- there's a
mythology of -- about african-americans and i taught for 30 years, and it is my firm belief that whites 40 years ago knew more about african-americans than they do today. that they actually studied. that once you got all of these fine programs with facts, it seems that the whites have not made -- availed themselves of it. >> i think there is this -- this is one of the things i wrote about. i think there's this myth of equality that permeates southern culture. think about it. we're region that developed something called separate but equal. and one thing i think that harper lee was trying to do was trying to shatter that myth that we have about equal.
well, we setting thises up so everybody has -- he have the the separate but equal and it works. what she was trying is try to break through the myths. today in the -- because we have a "black lives matter" movement and that is a really important movement but also a movement trying to find its voice and finding policies that will actually work with that, which is very complex. ...during the civil rights movement, there were dissecrete policy resolutions that the naacp and sncc had. voting rights, equal accommodations but with the "black lives matter" movement it's difficult to pinpoint the policies. we know black men are being gunned down in the street being
unarmed, and what your public policy solution for that? that a really difficult thing. one of the things with a novel, and one of the things with the novel, with fiction there is a way for us to get in and discuss the issue of race, and i think we was trying to give us a platform for talking about it. i am not sure she knew how, but that's give her credit for at least trying. she was trying to put it out there. we may have taken it on and placed our own mythologies on top of it over the last 50 years, but it at least gives us a platform. >> and she also became friends with mary tucker who was an african-american teacher and monroeville and because of all the publicity she would go to marry. they became good friends. she helped helped provide a lot of scholarships for
students of color, but none of them was ever known. mary just talked about that at the courthouse and monroeville a month ago because she did not want it known. she did not, you know, so much publicity in that town. i think that was -- it is all of the mythology. okay. all right. we will move off of this topic. i want to talk about harper lee as an author, her kind of reclusive persona. do you think that an author could do that now? could an author, a debut novelist the 26th put out a out a book like this and then never do publicity for it and succeed? is that a thing thata thing that can be replicated, or has modern literary culture quashed the ability to be a private novelist. >> you want to take that question? >> a biographer.
>> authors today -- mark childress said the best thing. he said that if this book had not hit it big harper lee would have been out hustling like the rest of us. it is hard to imagine a facebook page and all that. andand also those of us who don't have facebook and twitter or all of that, they are almost revels. the only when ii can think of, no one knows who she is or anything about her, but it is also exhausting because of what you are expected to do. they won't. they can't. they. they are going to focus on their big authors. i would like to think -- a friend of mine who is not on facebook, and i admire her for that. i think it is great. i love that she did not have to do that. >> ii think it would never
happen today. it would never ever happen today, and, and i think it is said that the publishing industry has changed so much that so much of the business is not just, i did my best, wrote my book, it is the hustling part, and i, you know, my last book was aa novel that i cowrote with my husband. i don't like technology. i don't have a facebook page, and the publisher was frustrated that i would not do those things. i would read and have friends. i am not really strange, but i am not going to e-mail people and asked them to buy my book. i am not going to do it, and they were upset and actually hired someone to treat my responses. >> she asked a question and we talked about them and then she treated them for us. i don't even no how to do it.
the days when you publish a book and walk away, my part is over is gone forever. >> i would agree as someone who has worked in publishing for more than 30 years. and i really do -- it is sad that we are at the point that all of us have turned in the shameless huckster's as authors rather than our publishers doing the heartstring for us which is what it used to be, the publisher pushed you out there,there, you do not have to do that, and you were just to be the talent, the writer command you could pull away from that. unfortunately now the way that things have evolved we cannot. every day we are hustling. >> damaging to the creative writing brain. >> it really is. >> a weird place you get to go that you get to dwell
that you are doing the crazy things, but groups. yes. i confessed. where is that dreamy place that you went to to get the good stuff in the 1st place? harder to access. >> and really the exception that proves the roles because it is so notable and is getting this notoriety. >> it is a brilliant puerto rico scheme. >> it is. >> i believe that she is a woman. so we are almost out of time. this is my last question. what do you think is harper lee's ultimate legacy.
do you think that she will be read 100 years from now? are we going to forget about her? she is still selling almost a million easier now. in 100 years, who knows. >> we have had this exchange and do think that it is time for to kill a mockingbird and harper lee's to be taught in history classes because there is so much that you can learn about american history from her work with to kill a mockingbird being set in 1935 and being in a lot of ways inspired by the scottsboro trial and then with this publication data in 1960 they're is a lot that happens in between they're. thatthat is one of the margaret to have motivations for the great migration. you can talk about the scottsboro trial, brown the board now the you have watchmen.
a way for this to be taught in history classes, so, so i think she will have a legacy what we are talking about this period in american history because it is going to be more of an historic legacy than -- it will be both historic and literary, bridging both worlds. >> i think that is a great idea. teach it in history, but it is such a beautiful book that people will read, a book about home that we return to. and also the fact that she and truman grew up next door to each other. also the bravery that it took for her to drop out of law school one month for graduating to go to new york and try to become a writer. so finding voices writers
and the sense of home. >> i think mockingbird will be read a hundred years from now. >> i think it will be read 100 years from now. one of my concerns, will americans be reading 100 years from now. [laughter] >> fair question. >> fair enough. all right. we will open the floor to audience questions. the microphone is right there, see you can go on up to the microphone if you have any questions for the panel. she is making her way. i will wait. right there. at the podium.ç >> hi.
>> we learned that tom robinson was actually acquitted, so it is kind of an alternate universe, and i was wondering what difference you all think that makes on the story and on atticus' character. >> you said scouts character as well, i think that the point you make is that it is a different, fictional universe. i do i do think that the way that the novel is set up, the way that watchmen is set out and atticus' character, having that acquittal and then also having atticus as, you know, a racist basically, it actually from a standpoint of the attention in the novelç really works as opposed to the way that it
works differently with the jury trial. it makes you think differently about atticus and also i think about scout, jean louise, if you will because you are seeing that she is looking at her father in a different way. without the idealized eyes that she has and her reasons for idolizing him and watchmen are different than the ones they were in to kill a mockingbird.ç >> i think we have all had that experience as readers of reading aa novel and seeing an author refer to an earlier novel that they had written and seeing a character and there is a pleasure where you feel like you are the end joke. that experience was different and watchmen for me because when she refer to something from the earlier book it often seems incorrect.
who am i to say that. i almost felt like, didn't you know? that's what happened. so i had to approach the book as something different than a continuation or prequel sequel and take it on merit. that being said, because it is not as well written or edited, my experience of understanding is literary value, like how i would teach this book to my graduate students, but we will find in it, one of the things i began to think of in my mind this, because it was written before mockingbird, looking at matisse is that he and seeing how he was positioning different figures and to try to understand how they would be in relation to each other before he painted the big painting and understand how
she was working out certain things in mockingbird that were not working but certain things that she would pull through and return to. >> and i think she, as she was revising and writing, went back to a real trial in monroeville, the walter let trial which was basically the same as tom robinson command her father was the editor of the monroe journal in. sheshe was about eight or nine when this trial is happening. she took that and used as the basis. >> any other questions from the audience? >> you were talking about the legacy of the book and what concerns me is, i love having the book. it reminds me, books i had from college or high school, and i wonder, with e-books, when you do not have maybe that book that you saw in
the cs fine and it reminds you of the 1930s and where we have come from, the impact of e-books on younger people, theypeople, they may not have that level of books because they do not have possession of the book. i just want to know if you thought about that. >> i think that a lot of millennial's, a lot, lot to do not a lot of millennial's are using the e-books. it may prove for. so it may be that they will -- i know we are worried about people actually reading, but there may be a little bit of a way of hope there, but i do agree with you, having the electronic version is not the same as having, you know, the book on the shelf. it just changes the way that you interact with the text, the way that you perceive the text. i think the way that you actually take it, and i just think about this because in
my trying to write my piece, the way i was able to get that quickly was to download the e-book at midnight to be able to go through and have something to work with as i wrote, and it is not the same for me as the annotated version of to kill a mockingbird which actually has my daughter's annotations in it which are also fascinating, but it is a very different experience. >> and as far as was said, the books sold way more than the e-books ever have. young people are reading more. it is nice to have the e-book able to be downloaded, but i want a house full of books. i hope i have imparted that to my students and children. anymore audience questions? okay. >> that was a great lead up
because i have been reading the book to kill a mockingbird and the watchmen this summer. my 15 -year-old nephew also recently read it, and at a family weekend recently we were having a book discussion. and the 15-year-old nephew said, well, atticus was a racist a racist and watchmen. what do you think the difference was? and i started wondering whether all of us would regard him a little bit differently. if the book watchmen have been published in 195657, when we judge him as harshly as we do today? i am from new orleans and we have a significantly african-american population there is a binary choice for some people in the country, you either are or are not
racist. he was not really yes or no. at that time he had authentic values with the correct or not, but we all see them in a different light? >> i think at the time someone who is advocating for eugenics. i don't think we would have been ready to have that discussion about what those organizations really meant. that is one of the reasons
that table lock had properly revise the book. we were not ready to have that does that answer your question? >> i agree with that. >> one more question. >> i thinki think you just answered my question. >> okay. >> because unfortunately i came in late. this was a session that i was interested in attending, and my question day pertain to how much you had gone into the fact that this novel was somewhere along the series of a revision in a partnership with tail off, and whether or not we all had any opinion on where it was in that partnership, do
you have an opinion? i am reluctant to have an opinion because i have nothing in fact to base it on. for me it is really, i was asked to write a piece with that thesis command i said i can't write that because i have nothing factual to link it to. that is a really difficult one. >> when i was writing a biography i heard that there was a book ina book in the vault, but i thought it would be the reverend, and that would be the book that she wrote in the vein of in cold blood. >> about the -- >> yes, so when i heard this book, the reverend does exist. and it wasn't the reverend.
so that was all i knew. i do not know any of the others, you know, particulars. >> every material that indicated that she was a quaker, that she was a social advocate, and that she was writing her own biography of a relatively renowned quaker social activist. and that this activist was, in fact, a model for atticus finch, and this was an article that appeared in a boston post article. are you all familiar with misses ho half's biography? it was actually published in 1959.
>> i am not familiar with that. >> nor am i. >> there is really some fascinating stuff that has come out. gosh, i wish i had been here >> we were fabulous. >> i am sure that you were. [applause] you had some very efficient gatekeepers. thank you very much. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> ii have not gotten the signal that we are done yet. one more minute. one more question. thank you. >> i was interested in the comments that you made about to kill a mockingbird being used as a book for literary instructions in the future. i would be interested in your comments regarding in light of the present racial divide within our country,
the site of the type of portrayal in to kill a mockingbird whereas we have this heroic person who is going to be the defender of african-americans in light of the 60s, are you really saying that we should continue that portrayal by using this book as a literary tool for teaching about race relations in america? >> i thinki think that mockingbird is a valuable text for teaching race relations in america, but i would pair it with books african-american writers and other writers of color. it isit is just one voice in concert from which we can learn a great deal. >> ii have to agree on that one. that is exactly the way to go .. with. with other books because that can generate a very robust discussion by looking
at various points of view. i mean,, one of the things that i thought about recently it can -- you can have a more robust discussion. >> many books with calpurnia's.of view, tom robbins.of view.view. we need to have a range of voices, not just that. >> we need diverse books. >> yes. >> the way i would respond, harper lee wrote a brilliant book, no doubt about it. she is celebrated, to my knowledge. i don't know that she is supported sclc