In 1964, soon after To Kill A Mocking Bird was published, Harper Lee was interviewed by WQXR Radio in the US, in the only known recorded interview to discuss the success of the book.
To Kill A Mocking Bird remains to this day one of the few modern classics to transcend geographical and language barriers. Its themes of racial segregation and rape, told in a simplistic yet warm voice, continues to resound to this day, and Atticus remains, for many, the moral hero who stands up to inequality and injustice in the face of majoritarian discontent.
In this interview, Lee was asked about how she felt at the success of the book. She said, ‘I was hoping somebody might like it to give public encouragement’, but she did not ‘expect the book to sell in the first place’. She spoke about her childhood in the deep South in the US, where she went to the local grammar school. ‘We’re a region of storytellers naturally,’ she said when asked why fiction from the south seemed so unique. ‘We did not have the pleasure of theatre or motion pictures…so we talk…we tell stories…we can’t go to big league baseball games…we didn’t have much money or toys…and the result was that we lived in our imaginations most of the time. We were readers.’
The interviewer asked her what her future plans were, and Lee said she ‘was working on another novel’, but ‘going slowly’. When asked how she would like to be known, she said, ‘I would like to be known as a chronicler of small-town, middle-class, Southern life’; she wanted to write about how they lived in the South, as it would be ‘something to lament on’ when it eventually disappeared. But above all, she said, ‘All I wanna be is the Jane Austen of South Alabama’.