Dear Miss Harper Lee
By Gavin Markovic
This letter is one of the 2019 “Letters About Literature” winners for the state of Nevada.
The right book can change your life. It happened to me. During seventh grade, I was to read a coming-of-age novel and present on the book and its author to my English class. My mom suggested I read her favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird. Her passion for the novel persuaded me and I had no idea that in a few short days, the book would quickly become my favorite as well. To Kill a Mockingbird inspired a period of personal growth and helped me determine where I want to live after high school.
Immediately, I found your description of the setting and characters of Maycomb, Alabama fascinating. Being born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, a transient city, where people usually do not know their neighbors’ names, the closeness of the people in Maycomb piqued my interest. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the characters spoke to their neighbors on a regular basis. Folks sat on porches and children played outdoors. In Las Vegas, months can go by without one seeing or talking to a neighbor. Maycomb seemed like a quaint place to live and I visualized what my life would be like there. I longed to be part of a close knit community. While reading, I reminded myself that Maycomb did not exist and it was only a fictional setting, or so I thought.
As I researched you for my presentation, I learned you were from Monroeville, Alabama, a small town that inspired the fictional Maycomb. Surprisingly, you were living in Monroeville at the time. I thought it was intriguing that as a Pulitzer Prize winning author, you returned to your hometown and humble roots, despite your fame and having lived in New York.
The most pivotal fact I discovered was that the Old Courthouse Museum in Monroeville is dedicated to you and To Kill a Mockingbird. Every April, a play based on the novel is performed by local citizens. Excitedly, I showed my mom the information and needless to say, we purchased opening night tickets and booked a flight to Alabama. I was finally going to see the South firsthand and compare and contrast the mental images I had created as I read your words. Would my expectations be met?
When we arrived in Monroeville, I was amazed by its smallness. Walking towards the Old Courthouse, we were greeted by a friendly man who recognized we were tourists. The man’s passion for his town was contagious. He was the first of many gracious people we met that day. That night at the play, we sat amongst strangers turned friends and I realized that Monroeville had many of the traits that I loved about the fictional town of Maycomb and it exceeded my expectations. Being fourteen at the time of my visit, I was not used to people showing me the same respect as an adult. The people I encountered smiled broadly, looked me in the eye, and extended their hands as they introduced themselves. In the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas, very few people acknowledge others with eye-contact or even a smile. The warm regard and slow pace were unforgettable.
Just as To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age novel, my trip to Alabama was a coming-of-age experience. Visiting Monroeville made me realize I wanted to leave Las Vegas and relocate to the South. The sincerity of the residents, the small-town vibe, and the sense of community pride made me recognize I would fit in perfectly. I made a commitment to myself to work hard and graduate high school with honors, so I could achieve my dream.
During my junior year, I began researching colleges. As I explored different Southern colleges online, the College of Charleston kept coming up in my searches. It seemed like an ideal match. The college’s rich historical tradition was appealing. The small-college feel within an urban setting was exactly what I wanted. The professors at the College of Charleston were described as friendly and approachable, which reminded me of the hospitality I so enjoyed in Monroeville. Once again, my mom and I booked a flight, this time to South Carolina.
Within minutes of arriving for our campus tour, I felt a sense of belonging, just as I did in Alabama. As strangers made my mom and I feel less like tourists and more like friends, we shared a moment. I knew my life was on a different, better, new path.
I am extremely hopeful that attending the College of Charleston is my next chapter. Thank you for helping me experience a different part of the country through your literature and for broadening my perspective. You, Miss Lee, and To Kill a Mockingbird, changed my life.
Gavin Markovic is a senior at Veteran's Tribute Career and Technical Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada. His letter to Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, won first place for Level 3 in the Nevada Letters About Literature competition and will advance to the national level. Although Gavin is an avid reader, To Kill a Mockingbird will always be his favorite novel. Gavin achieved his goals and will be graduating with honors in late May. He WILL be attending the College of Charleston in August.