Late last week downtown was filled with celebrations of various sorts. Interestingly, three events in two days centered on literary achievements of sorts. Tuesday evening saw a celebration of a surprise publication and of the beginning of a journey to New York City for another. Thursday saw an annual production that honors the most esteemed writer in the English language.
Union Avenue Books was abuzz with the latest release by Harper Lee. Most know her as the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel came out in 1960 and catapulted Ms. Lee to the top of the literary world. It continues to sell millions of copies annually and is beloved by many people. With protagonist Atticus Finch giving the moral undertone and Scout, his daughter, representing the next generation, hopefully free of the prejudices of those before, it spun the story of racial injustice in the south, leaving some hope that the next generation might move forward.
And that was it. After her wildly acclaimed work, Harper Lee, friend to Truman Capote and author of one of the most beloved American novels, never published another book-length work. It’s been a mystery and has led some to wonder whether she wrote the first novel. Decades passed and the assumption became that it was all she had in her.
Then an announcement came that another novel had been “discovered.” Some are calling it a sequel, but that’s not accurate. Go Set a Watchman book is a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, but it is set two decades hence. Since most of the characters appear in both books and the earlier events are referenced, it’s hard not to think of it as a sequel.
But the characters are not the same. In the first published work, Atticus stands, at great peril, against racism. In the second published work, he is more a product of his time and place. Scout, youthful and open-hearted in the first, is witty, but somewhat caustic and jaded in the second. In other words, the characters were changed after this first draft into the more appealing characters of the beloved book.
Still, for those who have spent decades loving To Kill a Mockingbird, simply to have another work by the author is cause for celebration. Several dozen of those fans gathered last Tuesday at Union Avenue Books for a reading and toast by Mary Pom Claiborne. While Harper Lee couldn’t make it, Bran Rogers’ “Harper Lee, Patron Saint of Poetic Justice” served as the focal point for the toast. A fun time was had by all and the very large stack of books soon sold out. Another order has come in, however, and they are waiting for you at Union Avenue Books.
Later that same evening another celebration was held in a different part of downtown. Flow on Main Street was the site for a celebration of a somewhat different sort, though it also had a literary theme. “Princess Cut,” the play authored and produced by the talented women at Yellow Rose Productions will head to New York City next month to be a part of the Fringe Festival. This was made possible by the generous donations, some made by Inside of Knoxville readers, to their Kickstarter campaign. With an original goal of $10,000, the fund drive ultimately hit nearly $13,000.
So, it was time to celebrate. I was one of two people over about age thirty, but I found some generational satisfaction at the song selections by the excellent duo, Blond Bones, who provide the soundtrack for the play and who entertained at the party. Their set list included songs by Paul Simon, the Beatles, Graham Parsons and more. Perhaps you still can’t trust anyone over thirty, but at this point, it’s hard to beat our music.
Entertainment was also provided by Full Disclosure Comedy a long-form improv group. I’d never seen anything quite like it, and I have to say the group are very talented. You can catch them this Wednesday night (22nd) at the Open Chord in West Knoxville. For those of you who have seen “Princess Cut,” with its intense emotional themes, it’s kind of shocking to see many of the same actors doing comedy, but they are very clever and very good. Check them out.
Two nights after these celebrations, the Tennessee Stage Company began mounting their annual productions, “Shakespeare on the Square.” Presenting a comedy and a drama each year on alternating nights, this year’s production are “Macbeth” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” The productions start nightly Thursday through Sunday at 7:00 PM and a donation of $10 is suggested, but not required. The shows run through mid August.
Like many of you, I’ve entertained guests from out-of-town this summer. Such was the case last week and I have to say that the vibrancy of our downtown with all its hustle, bustle and construction at every turn shows pretty well to visitors. While Market Square always shows well, having a live production on the stage to go along with the usual magic, buskers and other activities made us sparkle just a little extra. I hope you are enjoying the city this summer and showing it off to friends and family.