Locals have lunch with elusive Harper Lee

Published 12:03 am Saturday, May 12, 2012

By Lynne Jones and Thomas Jones

On the afternoon of Fri., April 27, the annual Harper Lee Award luncheon in Monroeville, Ala., was honored by the presence of its namesake Nelle Harper Lee, author and Pulitzer Prize winner of the book, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee, a native and current resident of Monroeville, is notorious for her privacy, last granting a public interview in 1964. She made her first ever appearance at the luncheon.

The annual Alabama Writers Symposium, celebrating its 15th year, pays recognition to the works of living literary artists who have made a significant and lifelong contribution to the state of Alabama through their writings, and it relies on several local entities and businesses to be produced. The Alabama Southern Community College and the Alabama Writers Forum all play support to the driving force, The Alabama Center for Literary Arts, which is the primary collaborator for the three-day event. Additionally, many businesses and organizations within the city of Monroeville assist in producing the symposium.

More than 175 people were present at the Friday awards luncheon and were surprised and in awe to see Ms. Lee seated at a table, in the beautifully decorated dining room, and paying tribute along with them to fellow-Alabama native, author, script writer, actress, producer, and New York Times best-selling writer Fannie Flagg. Lee’s and Flagg’s friendship travels all the way back to New York City in the 1980s when both were living in Manhattan and Lee gave an endorsement quote for Flagg’s book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which later was made into the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. Flagg received the 2012 Harper Lee Award.

In attendance from Covington County at the three-day symposium, which occurred April 26th through April 28th: From Andalusia, Dr. Steve Hubbard, LBW English instructor and president of the Association of College English Teachers of Alabama, (ACETA chooses the winner each year of the Symposium’s Eugene-Current-Garcia Award); from Chicago, an Andalusia native and a 1987 graduate of AHS, Thomas Jones; from Florala, Patsy Peoples and Brandi Evans, English teachers at Florala High School, Gary and Lynne Jones of Precision Image Photography of Florala, and Terry Peoples, Patsy’s husband.

Evans, who once attended Alabama Southern Community College in Monroeville, stated, ‘I’ve had my ‘Hey Boo’ moment. Miss Lee’s book has been very influential in my life, so it was quite a day for me. I realize how great and rare this experience was!”

Thomas Jones added, “We all glowed with the luck we felt having been in the presence of Nelle and you have to wonder why she would not return next year. Monroeville knows how to make you feel at home!”

The Alabama Writer’s Symposium has jettisoned to national and even international notoriety since it began in 1998, when it honored Mobile County native, author and jazz critic, Albert Murray, with its inaugural award. Through the years acclaimed writers such as Birmingham natives Rebecca Gilman and Sonia Sanchez as well as Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg, a native of Piedmont Alabama, have also been given the clock tower (beautiful bronze statue, replicating the top of the Monroe County courthouse) for their extraordinary work in the literary industry and devotion to Alabama.