Taking a drive – along Route 65 – south from Alabama’s state capital, Montgomery, it would be easy to continue all the way to Mobile without stopping off at one of North America’s literary goldmines. Monroeville, just a short detour off I65, is a small dawdling southern town which has spawned two of the 20th century’s most iconic writers in Harper Lee and Truman Capote; and well worth the 1-hour round trip detour.
As an avid fan of the book ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and the movie of course, I was keen to see the town which inspired the setting for the novel. I guess I was a little disappointed that a level of modernity had hit the outskirts of the town which like many others in the US was tarnished by miles of road-side advertising boards, stores, diners and gas stations. The town’s centre however did offer a little touch of the book’s southern charm with the old court house standing proud as a recognisable element from the book and film.
The courthouse has been lovingly restored and is now a museum and visitor centre which houses three permanent exhibits: Old Courthouse: Heart of the Community, Truman Capote: A Childhood in Monroeville, and Harper Lee: In Her Own Words. The gift shop offers an abundance of ‘Mocking Bird’ memorabilia and the exhibitions offer a real insight into the lives of the two famous authors. Having seen the film ‘Capote’ I was aware that Harper Lee had been a close friend and confidente of Truman Capote, but it was a surprise to discover that they had been childhood neighbours and friends; with Harper Lee basing the character ‘Dill’ on Truman.
Every April and May the local Mockingbird Players use the Courtroom for the second part of their production of To Kill a Mocking Bird, whilst presenting the first part of the story to an audience on the lawn at the rear of the courthouse.
A walk around the town reveals the townsfolk’s love of the book and a respect for the author.
The small town centre is a delight of craft shops, art-galleries and of course the Beehive Book and Coffee Shop which I had to visit. A hot chocolate with a warm blueberry muffin was just what the doctor ordered.
The town is kept in good southern order and has embraced everything Mockingbird and the local jewellery store has even displayed the town’s greatest jewel on its outer walls with a splendid mural representing a key moment from the story.
To kill a mockingbird is a sin, and it would have been a sin not to visit Monroeville on this tour.