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The Contested Legacy of Atticus Finch

Only Jesus made his father more famous. Harper Lee’s father was actually named Amasa, but, by the end of his life, he was answering to “Atticus Finch,” a reflection of how closely the character was modeled on him and how wildly well known…

Read more @The New Yorker

The Perils and Possibilities of Anger

The hatchet came later. Rocks were rare in the Red Hills of Kansas, where Carry Nation lived, so, when God commanded her to destroy establishments where alcohol was served, she gathered pieces of brick from her yard and wrapped them in brown paper to look like packages…

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Zora Neale Hurston’s Story of a Former Slave Finally Comes to Print

Captain William Foster left Mobile in secret and returned the same way. On July 8, 1860, he dropped anchor in the waters off the coast of Mississippi, hid his cargo below deck, slipped ashore, and travelled overland to fetch a tugboat from Alabama…

Read more @The New Yorker

The Indispensable Guide to Early American Murder

It might have been antimony in the lemonade, laudanum in the coffee, morphine in the whiskey, or strychnine in the sugar bowl. Arsenic could be dusted over oysters, spread onto a bread-and-butter sandwich, stirred into beer, brandy, or cider, even steeped in chamomile tea…

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Postscript: Harper Lee

The morning cometh, and also the night: so says the watchman set on the walls of the city of Babylon, in the Book of Isaiah. I thought of those words yesterday, when I heard about the death of Harper Lee…

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Mystery in Monroeville

Maycomb may have been hot enough to wilt men’s collars before nine, but Monroeville in February has a chill. The tiny Alabama town where Harper Lee was born was shocked earlier this month by the announcement that, fifty-five years after she published “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she would finally publish a sequel…

Read more @The New Yorker

Inside the Cloister

One of the paradoxes of monastic life is that those who try to leave the world are often pursued by it. Take Thomas Merton, who struggled for years to make a career as a writer in New York, only to become a best-selling author after he joined a Trappist monastery in Kentucky…

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Prayers of the Dead

Death is always survived by mystery. When a young person dies, there is the mystery of what her future might have been; with an elderly person, there’s the mystery of what her past really was…

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The Allure of the Map

For years, I carried the same map wherever I went. When I wasn’t traveling, Scotch tape held it to the back of my bedroom door: it was visible to me when the door was closed, but invisible to almost everyone else…

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Inheritance and Invention

How should one pray? Not even the Psalmists or the disciples knew the answer. The Psalms are filled with pleas for God to place words on the tongues of believers; the disciples were even so bold as to ask Christ to teach them how to pray…

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Lost at Sea

Why shipwrecks have engaged the poetic imagination for centuries.
Less than a month before his 30th birthday, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in the Gulf of Spezia…

Read more @The Poetry Foundation