As one of the most iconic female writers, Harper Lee's death naturally struck a chord of sorrow with the world. Tributes have bloomed across many different platforms for this inspirational woman and the legacy of her work.
Today, Harper Lee's name is synonymous with one of the greats. To Kill a Mockingbird has sold over 40 million copies worldwide (BBC, 2016), and has become a staple for readers and educators alike. 55 years on, Go Set a Watchman broke HarperCollins pre-sale records. Yet, when standing on a mountain of success it's easy to forget how much an achievement To Kill a Mockingbird was for a female author in 1960.
Many great female authors before Lee - Austen, Brontë, Eliot, Woolf, among many others - have paved the way for women and writing. However you don't have to look far to discover the immense challenges they faced. Today, in an age where many are making considerable strides to increase the prominence of female authorship, female writers are still using pseudonyms, are still struggling for shelf space and still fighting for publishing contracts. In the past 15 years alone male-authored books about men or boys have won over half of the Pulitzer Prizes, whilst female-authored books about women or girls have won 0% (Griffith 2015). So what would it have been like for a female writing in the late 1950's?
In 1960, in a patriarchal society, at a crucial point for civil rights and despite the difficulties of female authorship, Harper Lee presented the world with To Kill a Mockingbird. A book which is written through the eyes of a female protagonist, a book which confronts racial and social injustices, a book which quickly became a bestselling novel and won Lee the prestigious Pulitzer prize - an award which, although not unheard of for women, had been dominated by men.
"In the past 15 years, no female-authored books about women or girls have won the Pulitzer prize"
Lee had a story to tell, and she allowed the Finch family to stand as a beacon of empathy and justice in a world which, both inside and outside of the novel was prone to inequality. She set out to have her voice heard, and in doing so addressed one of the most controversial topics of the time. A story which would subsequently be passed down from generation to generation.
So what should we take from Harper Lee's feat? It's simple really: If you are passionate about sharing something, despite any circumstances, you can do it. Barriers can be broken, women and men alike have been breaking them throughout history. If a girl, from small town Alabama can write a multi-prize winning book, why can't you?
With increasing popularity of self-publishing and cooperative publishing, it is easier today to manage your own destiny than it was in 1960. There is a whole network of services, tips, testimonies and advice at our fingertips and it is no longer necessary to turn to a third party for approval or validation of one's work. The playing field is levelling and there is very little stopping you from making your voice heard or from inspiring someone else with your story. This is an ever-changing world and you could be part of it.
Be bold, Be brave. Be like Harper Lee.