Resources for To Kill a Mockingbird from American Masters

American Masters, public television’s award-winning biography series, explores the lives and creative journeys of our most enduring writers, musicians, visual and performing artists, dramatists and filmmakers. This collection from PBS LearningMedia offers you access to classroom-ready videos and articles drawn from the Series broadcasts and website. Here are video resources for To Kill a Mockingbird from Seasons 25 and 26 of American Masters:

Setting:  A Portrait of a Southern Town in the 1930’s (Grades 7-12) Students learn about Harper Lee’s hometown, the inspiration for the fictional town of Maycomb. Through archival interviews, photographs, and present-day commentary (including an excerpt from an interview with Harper Lee), students see what life was like for people living in the South during the Great Depression.

Harper Lee:  Hey, Boo_do not publish (Grades 7-12) Students examine archival photos, interviews, and the novel to gain an understanding of Harper Lee, the writer and the private citizen. Commentators ranging from memoirist James McBride to novelist Anna Quindlen speculate on why Harper Lee chose to write only one novel and compare her to Boo Radley, the novel’s neighborhood recluse.

Is To Kill A Mockingbird Still Relevant Today? (Grades: 8-11) This video highlights the social climate in the South when the novel was published and when the film premiered, as well as reactions to issues presented in the story. The account by Diane McWhorter, a classmate of Mary Badham (the actress who played Scout in the movie), is given special attention.

To Kill A Mockingbird and Its Mysterious Author

To Kill a Mockingbird endures as one of the most powerful books that students read. Often curious about its elusive author, students can now view Harper Lee: Hey, Boo, the PBS documentary recently aired on WGBY.  The film illuminates the phenomenon behind Lee’s first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the 1962 film version, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Offering an unprecedented look into Lee’s mysterious life, Emmy®-winning filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy (author of Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of To Kill a Mockingbird) interviews Lee’s friends and family, including her centenarian sister Alice, who share intimate recollections, anecdotes and biographical details for the first time.  Among them, her rise from small-town Alabama girl to famous author, her tumultuous friendship with Truman Capote, and the origin of her most memorable characters: Atticus Finch, his daughter Scout, her friend Dill, and Boo Radley.

The documentary also explores the context and history of the novel’s Deep South setting and the social changes it inspired after publication and through the film starring Gregory Peck. Tom Brokaw, Rosanne Cash, Anna Quindlen, Scott Turow, Oprah Winfrey, and others reflect on the novel’s power, influence, popularity, and the ways it has shaped their lives. Lee gave her last interview in 1964 and receded from the limelight.

The American Masters’ site  offers additional resources such as an excerpt from Director Mary Murphy’s Scout, Atticus and Boo.