The Alabama Center for Literary Arts celebrates the abundance, sustainability, diversity, and richness of Alabama literature, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The list of master writers and distinctive contributors is truly remarkable. However, from this panoply arise five individuals whose contributions have made them international symbols for depth of insight and eloquent expression of human meaning. These five Alabama literary icons are Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Booker T. Washington, Helen Keller, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
These five Alabama writers reframed human relations for Alabama, for the South, for the nation, and for the world. These five Alabama writers gave birth to the New South. While doing so, they became international icons who helped us to see more clearly "man's inhumanity to man." We honor them because they helped all of the modern world to redefine what it means to be a responsible and worthy Alabamian, American, and citizen of the world.
Defining or giving birth to the New South illustrates the coherence of the five Alabama literary icons. Booker T. Washington heralds the beginning of the New South, a South that shifts from slavery to affirmation of dignity and respect for black citizens and to support for economic self-sufficiency for black people. Helen Keller became the principal spokesperson for recognition of the abilities and full rights and responsibilities of the disabled. Truman Capote clearly signaled that neither literature nor individuals can be or should be contained in simple categories or stereotypes. He created a new genre of literature, and he illustrated in writing and in life the power and frailty, the innocence and the guilt, the brilliance and ignorance, the best and worst of human characteristics that exist in each individual to different degrees. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the principal spokesperson of the Civil Rights movement, using Christian analogies to help all Americans understand the evil of racism. He taught everyone the power of nonviolent, collective disobedience as the most effective means to social change.
The last of the five icons is Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the most widely read novels in America and the world. Harper Lee convinced us through Atticus Finch that we must try to walk in another man's shoes. This great work gave a human face to all Americans of the inhuman institution of racism and also gave a new set of archetypes as heroes that are "everyday heroes." These heroes may not be the subjects of myths and legends, but they act each day with dignity and respect for every human being.
"The New South," as defined by these great Alabamians, with a clear knowledge of the injustice of the past but an affirmation of the rights, dignity, respect, and opportunity that we want for all our fellow human beings, moves forward with a bright promise for the future. As Truman Capote stated so succinctly, "If you can learn to love one leaf, you will learn to love the universe." In times such as these, in a world that often appears overwhelming, the "dream" of Martin Luther King, Jr., the immense determination of Helen Keller, the solid foundation of Booker T. Washington, the conflicting emotions of the human heart, portrayed by Truman Capote, and the quiet, profound eloquence of Harper Lee, offer much solace, hope, and inspiration to our world. By acknowledging them, we seek the best in and for every citizen of the world.
Nall, an Alabama native, is our state's most internationally renowned artist. Painting in the American symbolist tradition - the most literary of visual art forms - Nall is particularly recognized for his gift with portraiture. Nall's paintings of the five literary icons are on display at the Southwest Regional Arts Museum located in Alabama Southern's Monroeville campus library.
The Literary Courtyard
During the 2003 Alabama Writers Symposium, Alabama Southern dedicated the Fountain of Literary Inspiration in honor of ten outstanding writers who have at one point called Monroeville or Monroe County home. The fountain, also called the Monroeville Writers Fountain, is the centerpiece of a beautifully landscaped courtyard outside the library. The fountain and courtyard provide a space for campus events and quiet reflection.
As the Literary Capital of Alabama, Monroeville has been home to some of the South's best writers: Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Mark Childress, Marva Collins, Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Riley Kelly, Mike Stewart, William Barrett Travis, Cynthia Tucker and Hank Williams. The Monroeville Writers Fountain and Courtyard celebrates these writers and the power their words have had in the lives of citizens around the globe. The names of the 10 honored writers are etched into the limestone that borders the pool at the fountain's base.
In conjunction with the Monroeville Writers Fountain, Alabama Southern has produced its own private label water, Inspiration: Monroeville Writers Water, because, as many have said, with all the talent bubbling forth from Monroeville , "It must be in the water."