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National

Harper Lee's Hometown Reacts To Her Death

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Monroeville, Ala., is mourning the death of novelist Harper Lee. She wrote "To Kill A Mockingbird," set in a place based on that town. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott spoke with Lee's fans and friends there.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: Clay Brown was driving northeast from her home in Moss Point, Miss., to Monroeville when she heard the news about Harper Lee's death. Standing in the gift shop of the courthouse museum, she remembers reading "To Kill A Mockingbird," and like the young heroine scout, awakening to the racism around her.

CLAY BROWN: You know, as children, you know there's something kind of hmm (ph), but you don't really understand what it is. And it's nice to have lived long enough to see things change.

GASSIOTT: Also visiting the gift shop is Monroeville resident Iris Matthews. She says she doesn't see any similarity between today's Monroeville and Maycomb, the fictional setting for the book.

IRIS MATTHEWS: That was something that happened in the past. Time has changed as years passed, you know. You do not forget, but you forgive, and you move on, and we grow.

GASSIOTT: Like others in town, Matthews remembers seeing the author of "To Kill A Mockingbird" in local restaurants and stores. And while she knew Lee never liked to be approached, she couldn't help but think...

MATTHEWS: Wow, of course, wow, you know, natural in-town celebrity.

GASSIOTT: Nathan Carter is the director of the courthouse museum and someone who grew up knowing Lee as both a personal friend and someone who was close to his cousin, Truman Capote. And Carter says he wouldn't even try to guess at what Capote might say about the death of his close friend.

NATHAN CARTER: No, I would not dare to do that. He would come up with something very, very clever and funny and memorable.

GASSIOTT: According to Carter, it's the literary contributions that Lee leaves behind that will be her legacy in Monroeville, a legacy that was further cemented by the publication of another novel last summer.

SPENCER MADRIE: When "Go Set A Watchman" came out, when we did the midnight release, it was totally frantic. We have never done anything like that before.

GASSIOTT: Spencer Madrie owns the Ol' Curiosities and Book Shoppe near the courthouse. On the day of "Watchman's" release in July, people lined up all day to buy the book from the store in Lee's hometown. Madrie says both books are special to Monroeville where "Mockingbird" has become a local industry.

SPENCER MADRIE: "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee is our signature. You can't move it. You can't take it somewhere else. You can't break it apart from Monroeville in any form or fashion. So that's something that keeps this city moving.

GASSIOTT: Arrangements for Lee's funeral have not been announced but are expected to be closed to the public. For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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