The author of To Kill a Mockingbird is famously reclusive. She rarely speaks in public, and her novel—about Atticus Finch’s defense of a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman in the segregated South—is the only work she’s ever had published. But a high-school stage version of Mockingbird, in her home state of Alabama, was evidently enough to bring Harper Lee out of hiding. The play was mounted just across the street from the Montgomery bus stop that made Rosa Parks famous, and Lee had been invited by arts and education officials seeking to honor her work. But the 80-year-old, who simply waved to the audience during a standing O, saved her comments for the students afterward, during a private reception. The cast of 60 comes from two public schools—one in a wealthy, mostly white community, the other in a poorer, mostly black district. The schools’ theater and choir directors thought the show, first staged last August, would be a good way to bridge a cultural divide. And, indeed, a bond between kids who previously knew very little about each other has developed. After the Montgomery performance, Kimberly Agee, who plays the Finches’ maid, put her arm around Regan Stevens, who plays Scout, and said, “These right here—these are friends for life.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.