The book that won a Pulitzer Prize
in 1961 became the subject of an entire city for seven weeks
as thousands of people read To Kill a Mockingbird as
part of "One Book, One Chicago." Harper Lee's
powerful novel about racism and racial injustice was the
subject of dramatic readings, lectures and discussion groups
that took place in coffee houses, libraries, bookstores
and in Internet chat rooms. More than 25,000 lapel pins
with mockingbird logos were distributed in an attempt to
foster spontaneous discussions. And continual screenings
took place of the 1962 movie that won an Academy Award for
Gregory Peck in the role of Atticus Finch.
The program, which was sponsored
by the Chicago Public Library, was enormously successful,
according to Gerry Keane, coordinator of special projects
for the Chicago Public Library. "The scope of this
was massive and the response from the public was incredible,"
said Keane. In conjunction with the program, the Chicago
Bar Association and the U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois presented a mock trial and discussion.
The powerful courtroom scene in Act II from the adaptation
of the play by Christopher Sergel was selected as the program
script for the trial, which was held in the ceremonial courtroom
in the Dirksen Courthouse in downtown Chicago and played
to a capacity crowd. Cast members were local Chicago attorneys,
and WLS-TV news anchor and reporter Joel Daly portrayed
The idea for a citywide reading program
originated in Seattle in 1998. Other programs have been
held in cities from Buffalo to Rochester, N.Y., to Boise,
Idaho. The Chicago program, held in conjunction with Chicago
Book Week, has been one of the most successful thus far,
partly because of the endorsement it received from city
government and also because of the wide appeal of the book.
The novel about a lawyer who is called upon to defend a
black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in a trial
that polarized a community in Macomb, Alabama, in the 1930s
is one of the most popular American novels ever written
and still sells over a million copies each year.
[Quote from Harper Lee]
"When the people of Chicago
assemble in various parts of the city to read and discuss
To Kill a Mockingbird, there is no greater honor
the novel could receive. People of all backgrounds and cultures
coming together to put their critical skills to worknothing
could be more exciting! Or fruitful: when people speak their
minds and bring to discussion their own varieties of experience,
when they receive respect for their opinions and the good
will of their fellows, things change. It is as if life itself
takes on a new compelling clarity, and good things get done."
[Quote from Gregory Peck]
"To Kill a Mockingbird is
about bigotry. True, for me the most beautiful scene is
the moment when the judge drops by to ask Atticus to take
the case in defense of Tom Robinson. Casually put and casually
answered, the question needed no answer. The judge knew
it would not be possible for Atticus to say no. As for Jem
and Scout, they learn a sense of honor from Atticus. That
is all they need to carry them through life."
[Quote from Chicago Mayor Richard
"Treat yourself to the richly
drawn characters, the compelling social justice issues and
the poignant moments that make To Kill a Mockingbird
an American classic."
Photo: Paper Mill
Playhouse. George Grizzard as Atticus.