Winning writer honored

Published 12:56 pm Friday, February 11, 2011

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

Alabama native Harper Lee’s novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, is celebrating a birthday during this school year. Published in 1960, July of 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark book’s publication.

The University of Alabama’s Honors College has sponsored an essay contest for the state’s high school students as a tribute to this incredible book since 2002. The contest asks students to write about why Lee’s novel has had such a lasting impact-not only in this state, but also around the world.

Pelham High School Freshman, Kathryn Clemmons, won our school’s contest. As our school winner, she was one of 28 statewide honorees invited to attend the To Kill a Mockingbird High School Essay Contest Awards Ceremony at the University of Alabama on February 4.

Clemmons’ English teacher, Rebecca Burnett, said that although the school’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” competition was fierce, Clemmons may have found the contest less difficult than some students.

“Kathryn Clemmons really lives by what Atticus teaches Scout in the novel about considering things from another’s point of view,” Burnett said. “Proper treatment of her fellow human being is something Kathryn models daily.

“So, naturally, this essay would be easy for her to write,” Burnett added.

Pelham High School freshman Kathryn Clemmons recently won the “To Kill a Mockingbird” essay contest. (Special/Connie Nolen)

In her essay, Clemmons wrote, “This narrative still speaks powerfully to us today because it is a reminder of the innocent childlike faith in right and wrong, and why true acceptance based only on an individual’s character is so necessary.”

I tell my students that all great social change begins in art. Artists show us the everyday from their perspective-and artists see the world differently from most people. Sometimes an artist’s perspective reveals great beauty and, at other times, an artist’s perspective reveals ugliness with terrifying clarity.

The artistry of Harper Lee’s masterpiece is that it contrasts the simplicity of childhood innocence with the harsh reality of adult prejudice-and reveals a society in need of a wake-up call.

Clemmons closes her winning essay with these words, “Sometimes people have to humble themselves and look at things from a child’s perspective. When the reader changes his or her perspective, the truth is revealed from the perspective of an innocent child.”

Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” speaks the truth from the perspective of a little girl. Clemmons’ essay reveals that Lee’s timeless message reaches not only around the world, but also through generations.

Connie Nolen can be reached by e–mail at