On a recent 10-day trip to south Georgia and Alabama, we covered a lot of ground. The trip had many profound highlights. These are the literary ones.
Monroeville, Alabama, was the hometown of author Harper Lee (1926-2016) and the setting for her indelible novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s where her long friendship began with Truman Capote (1924-1984), who lived in Monroeville for most of his childhood and became the model for Lee’s character Dill.A fascinating and quirky (in the way of small museums) tribute to Lee and Capote is housed in the Old Courthouse Museum, site of “the most famous courtroom in America” (pictured).
The actual courthouse wasn’t used for the Mockingbird movie, but the set designers arrived from Hollywood to inspect and measure, and their recreation copies the original almost exactly. Apparently Lee thought Gregory Peck was too youthful to play Atticus Finch—that is, until he went into a dressing room to try on his costume: three-piece suit, glasses, and pocket watch. “He came out a middle-aged man,” she said, realizing he’d be perfect.
Montgomery, Alabama, is where Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (1900-1948) grew up and where, in 1931-1932, she and her husband Scott (1896-1940) lived. That house, in the Old Cloverdale neighborhood, is called a “museum,” but it’s more impactful for knowing you’re walking where this star-crossed literary couple walked, seeing what they saw, knowing he worked on Tender Is the Night in that period and she on her only novel, Save Me the Waltz. Some gilded age clothing (pink suit!) and evening gowns, Gatsby edition memorabilia, and biographical profiles of people they hobnobbed with are on display, along with handwritten pages, and Zelda’s artwork. Is it really 98 years since The Great Gatsby was published?
The house is an Airbnb and a party venue, so it’s enduring quite a bit of wear. We arrived at the same time as a trio of women and were put off by the “closed for private party” sign, but they’d encountered that a few days before. We collectively decided not to take it seriously and all walked in. No problem. No party.
Montgomery is also home to the Hank Williams Museum, a magnet for country music fans. It has a few nice touches: his music plays throughout. On view are his baby blue Cadillac, some of his gorgeous Western-style suits, and a selection of the romance comics he liked to read. “Why do you read that junk?” friends would ask, and he’d say they gave him most of the ideas for his songs. “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” comes to mind. Is this stretching the notion of “literary” too far?
Milledgeville, Georgia, was home to one of the greatest Southern Gothic authors, National Book Award-winner Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). We visited Andalusia, the farm where she lived in the last years of her life and where she raised her prized peacocks. There’s now a museum there dedicated to her work. We also saw from the outside the house in Milledgeville where, as a teenager, she lived with her mother’s family while her father’s health declined.
When her letters were published in 1979 (The Habit of Being), I read them and it was painful to see in the museum the kind of typewriter she used. Like her father, O’Connor had lupus, and in the days before word processing, revisions to stories and novels required retyping—a massive chore for her. However, the trials of the disease were integral to her experience. As writer Alice McDermott said, “It was the illness, I think, which made her the writer she is.”
In Atlanta, Georgia, we saw Roundabout Theater’s production of Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize winning (1982) story, A Soldier’s Play, directed by Kenny Leon. The production has a great cast, with Norm Lewis and Eugene Lee in the leads. Some of the themes are a little dated, but the overall message about the effects of racism is not. Even if the play hadn’t been so good, it would have been worth it to see the renovated Fox Theatre, with its fabulous Moorish interior. The picture can’t do it justice!
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All photos: Vicki Weisfeld