The Advent Calendar of Literature: Day 21

Our exploration of noteworthy facts involving Christmas presents and American writers continues today. Yesterday we revealed the odd items which were the only Christmas presents William Faulkner would accept from his family. Today, we look at how a generous Christmas gift led to one of the most popular and enduring works of twentieth-Presentscentury literature being written.

In December 1956, Nelle Harper Lee, better known as Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, received a rather useful Christmas present from her friends, Michael Brown and Joy Williams Brown. It was a short note which read: ‘You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.’ Enclosed were a year’s wages, which Lee could only accept on condition that she give up work and write for a year. She accepted. Over the next year, she wrote the novel that became To Kill a Mockingbird. It was published a few years later, in July 1960, and although its author expected it to sink without trace, it has gone on to become one of the most widely read novels of the twentieth century.

Lee has never written another novel, but then she hasn’t needed to. To Kill a Mockingbird speaks (and pays) for itself. To date, it has sold over 30 million copies, and in 1999, it was voted ‘Best Novel of the Century’ in a poll by the Library Journal. Some Christmas presents can really make a difference…

Image: Gift boxes, symbol of joy celebrated at Christmas, Creative Commons.


  1. Pingback: The Advent Calendar of Literature: Day 22 | Interesting Literature

  2. I wish someone would make me an offer like that! Does anyone know why she’s never written another novel? Did she just put away her pen/typewriter or was it that she didn’t finish anything else?

  3. Fabulous story—thank you!

  4. Wow, I didn’t know a lot about this!

  5. Interesting. It’s great she had that kind of support.