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September 28, 2009
Washington, DC

Olivia Scott as Scout in Hartford Stage Company's spring 2009 production of To Kill a Mockingbird, part of Hartford Public Library's Big Read. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

In this interview excerpt NEA Jazz Master David Baker talks about the universal truths he has found in To Kill a Mockingbird, including a surprising link to Kobe Bryant. (Hear more about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird from David Baker, Sandra Day O'Connor, Robert Duvall, and others on The Big Read To Kill a Mockingbird audio guide.)

Well, you know, and it?s something I?ve given a lot of thought to, certainly [To Kill a Mockingbird] is  about prejudice, it?s about pride, it?s about prejudgment.  But you know the thing that struck me most about [the novel] is the universality of traits found in all human beings that are in this book.  And, particularly, the fact that it?s a book told through the eyes of a little girl as she becomes a woman. . . it?s almost biblical in the sense that  a little child shall lead them.  And I guess I?m also struck by the way that Harper Lee characterized the various players in the book. For instance, the fact that there is that duality that all human beings have, that nobody?s essentially all bad or all good. And I thought, more than anything else, [Lee] was able to capture that. 

And I thought about an ad that I happened to be seeing on TV the other night when I was going through the book again, and it?s the ad that Kobe Bryant does.  And he talks about, ?People hate me because I swagger, they hate me because I score too many points, they hate me because I?m a pro.?  And then when he finishes all of that, he says very quietly, ?It?s the same reason that some people love me.?  And I thought about that when I thought about some of the characters [in To Kill a Mockingbird] who are very, very bad, are very evil seemingly in intent. And yet there?ll be somebody who says there?s something redeemable about them.

[One example] is Miss Dubose who had been under so much pressure during the time that Jem was assigned to read to her. And he couldn?t figure why she was so angry all the time and so mean.  And then it?s revealed when she dies that she had been weaning herself off of morphine, because the pain was so bad, and she was trying to leave?as I think she put it?owing nobody anything.  And I thought that was such a wonderful thing. In fact, I believe it was there that Atticus commented, calling her the bravest woman he had ever known.

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