Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'One-Hit Wonder' Writers an Eclectic - and Distinguished - Literary Circle

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'One-Hit Wonder' Writers an Eclectic - and Distinguished - Literary Circle

Article excerpt

With the publication this week of "Go Set a Watchman," at least one line in the thumbnail bios of Nelle Harper Lee will have to be amended. As we now know, "To Kill a Mockingbird" was not her only novel.

These days, thanks to two films, Lee is almost as well known for her work as a "research assistant" on Truman Capote's acclaimed "In Cold Blood" as she is for own Pulitzer Prize-winning work. (The Alabama-born writer was portrayed by Catherine Keener in the 2005 film "Capote" and by Sandra Bullock in the 2006 film "Infamous.")

In both films, Lee is seen as organized, focused and content to remain in the background. And for more than 50 years -- even after accepting an appointment to the National Council on the Arts in 1966 -- the real Lee continued to shun the spotlight, refusing interview requests and lucrative speaking engagements and insisting she would never write another book.

Fans were disappointed. What if Dickens, Austen, Twain and Hemingway had stopped at one? And how many cool movies would never have been made if Stephen King called it a day after "Carrie?" But Lee remained steadfast, earning her place alongside some great novelists who are often regarded today as one-hit wonders.

At the top of that list is Margaret Mitchell, whose 1936 bestseller "Gone With the Wind" was eventually made into a classic film. A love story set before, during and after the Civil War, it was the best-selling book in the country for two years. And in a Harris Poll taken last year it was cited as Americans' second- favorite book of all time -- after the Bible.

There have been two sequels that were authorized by Mitchell's estate and several unauthorized ones. "Lost Laysen," a novella Mitchell wrote when she was a teenager, was discovered and published in the 1990s. But as far as we know, Mitchell wrote no other books after "GWTW."

Two other romance novels that became film classics were also written by one-hit wonders who were known, primarily, as poets: Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" and Boris Pasternak's "Doctor Zhivago."

"Wuthering Heights" was first published in 1847, using Bronte's pen name, Ellis Bell. A second version, printed in 1850 -- two years after her death, from tuberculosis, at age 30 -- used her real name. …

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