Okay, this may not be as epic a biography as Caro’s takes on Robert Moses or Lyndon Johnson. But don’t dismiss the writing and research skills of 11 year-old Chen Casella. She’s the daughter of journalist/author Eileen Daspin and chef/restaurateur Cesare Casella. For $3, her company, “Chen’s Idea,” will accept commissions to research and write biographies on, well, anyone. Digital rights are an additional $1.50.
After meeting her recently, I asked her to pen something on my favorite author, Harper Lee. Here’s what she came up with. (And yes, I paid the extra $1.50.)
Harper Lee: 1926-
By Chen Casella
Harper Lee’s novel, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961. The book helped change ideas of what people thought about different races.
Nelle Harper Lee was born April 28th 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She was the youngest of four children. Her parents were Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee. Her father was a former newspaper editor. He also served as a state senator and practiced as a lawyer.
To Kill a Mockingbird was Harper’s first and only novel. The book is set in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s. Atticus Finch, a lawyer and a father, defends a black man, Tom Robinson, who is accused of hurting a poor white girl. The setting and a lot of the characters are from Lee’s life. Finch was the maiden name of Lee’s mother, and the character of Dill was from the famous writer, Truman Capote, Lee’s childhood friend. The trial itself has parts to the “Scottboro Trial”. The defendants were African-American men and the accusers white women.
Lee went to the public grammar school and high school in Monroeville. She started writing as a young girl and kept at it while attending Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama from 1944 to 1945. In 1945, she transferred to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to study law. She left in 1949 without completing her degree. While at Alabama, Harper wrote columns and stories for the university’s newspaper. In 1949, she left Alabama to start a literary career in New York.
Lee’s first job in New York was as an airline reservations clerk. After some time, and with the support of friends, she was able to quit her job and write full time. But it wasn’t easy. Her mother and brother died and she had many other responsibilities, but finally she finished after three years. The book was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961.
Harper Lee won many different awards for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in addition to the Pulitzer Prize: the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1961). She also won the Alabama Library Association Award (1961), Bestsellers Paperback of the Year Award (1962), In 2002, Lee received the Alabama Humanities Award from the Alabama Humanities Foundation.
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