Alabama educators reflect on impact of Harper Lee's works

Published: Feb. 20, 2016 at 12:12 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2016 at 3:02 AM CST
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(Source: WSFA 12 News File Photo)
(Source: WSFA 12 News File Photo)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The Montgomery City-County Public Library has 101 copies of Harper Lee's works. At noon on Friday, all of them were checked out.

But those empty bookshelves weren't in reaction to her death that morning. Librarians say that's how consistently popular the author's work has been for decades.

In fact, the library says her titles are so popular, they have to replace about 20 of them every year.

"For the time that I have been associated with this library, she has been the most dominant and popular author that we've had in our collection," said Tim Berry, head librarian at Morgan Memorial Library.

He says that popularity is notable since, up until last year, Harper Lee had only published one novel.

"It is very unusual. It is probably the most popular title in our collection. It's the quality of the story telling and the characters. Everybody knows Atticus. Everybody knows Scout and everybody knows the story behind To Kill a Mockingbird," Berry said. "She's probably on every reading list there is in the public and private schools."

Fifty-five years after its release, the book has become the most read novel in American classrooms.

English teacher Foster Dickson says the accessibility of To Kill A Mockingbird is what has made the book an American classic.

"The messages are timeless. They're beyond place. The messages of coming of age, loss of innocence, the effects of racism, the effects of injustice and things like that," said Dickson, a teacher at Booker T. Washington Magnet High School. "I don't think you have to be from the south or from Alabama to understand this story. I've never heard a student say 'I didn't understand what she was talking about,' and I think that's the brilliance of it. That's the strength of a great book, any great book, is that it can be enjoyed by young people, older people. The more you read it, the more you find in it and To Kill A Mockingbird was one of those books."

The head of Troy University Montgomery's English Department says he doesn't expect the books popularity or relevance to disappear anytime soon.

"I have no doubt that To Kill A Mockingbird will still be read many generations on," said Kirk Curnutt. "It remains meaningful I think in a lot of ways because the issues that it addresses have not been resolved. The central issue that it addresses, racial equality, is one that we still struggle with."

Since its release, To Kill A Mockingbird has never been out of print. It's sold more than 30 million copies and has been translated into more than 40 languages.

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