The literary capital of Alabama pays homage to its hometown writers with a new sculpture trail through downtown Monroeville.
In a small Southern Alabama town, two children lie on the grass in the hot 1930s summer sun. Before them lounges an old typewriter. The young, barefooted, overall-clad girl dictates to her thin, golden-haired companion. They swap roles. Later, they write longer stories. Much later, they write award-winning stories; To Kill a Mockingbird and In Cold Blood, respectively, to be exact.
Harper Lee and Truman Capote’s legendary friendship began at a young age in Monroeville, Alabama, where Lee was born. Their paths crossed when Capote began spending summers at a relative’s house next door to Lee’s. Both somewhat misfits amongst the other children, they formed a close bond through mystery books and an old typewriter given to them by Lee’s father.
As they grew older and their stories grew fuller, Lee and Capote’s friendship continued. Each based characters off of one another in their books (Dill in To Kill a Mockinbird and Idabel Thompkins in Other Voices, Other Rooms). Lee even accompanied Capote to Garden City, Kansas, taking over 150 pages of notes for his In Cold Blood. Their companionship clearly aided their literary adventures, and the setting of such a friendship cannot be forgotten.
The Monroeville streets they traversed as kids transformed into the roads of Maycomb read by thousands; and the literary thrill they found in their summers was discovered by others in Monroe County, as well.
Monroeville, Alabama—now named the Literary Capital of Alabama—is home to approximately 7,000 citizens. Outside of Lee and Capote, a large handful of successful writers, journalists, educators and artists have emerged from the small city. Marva Collins, a nationally-renowned educator, Mark Childress, a well-respected novelist, and Cynthia Tucker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, are all natives of Monroeville. Something in this rural city ignites the minds of its citizens and leads them onto paths of literary success.
In order to celebrate the rich literary history of Monroeville, The Literary Capital Sculpture Trail was recently created. The trail, consisting of 14 bronze sculptures, honors the writers who gave the city its title of “Literary Capital of Alabama.” First unveiled on April 26, the sculptures were all created by University of Alabama students.
“This Literary Capital Sculpture Trail Project is a unique way to honor and memorialize the many talented writers who have Monroeville roots, and to them and their creations through the lens of a talented group of artists,” says Mayor Sandy Smith. The permanent display weaves throughout downtown, ensuring both citizens and tourists can understand the impact Monroeville and these writers have had on American literature and writing.
Here is a list of the sculptures, their artists and locations.
Truman Capote’s Hat and Glasses
Artist: Morgan Harrison
Location: 31 North Alabama Ave./Monroe County Museum – Southeast Entrance
Often adorning a hat and thick-rimmed glasses, Truman Capote became one of the most influential writers in American literature. After publishing his first novel at age 24 and winning the O. Henry Award for best short story at age 30, he went on to write In Cold Blood, which created the “nonfiction novel” genre.
Artist: Jennifer Gault
Location: 31 North Alabama Ave./Monroe County Museum – Otha Lee Biggs Amphitheater
A simple, yet beautiful sculpted gavel is instantly reminiscent of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Centered around a trial in a small Southern town, the novel has become a literary staple in households around the world. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize (1961), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2007) and was admitted into both the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame (2015) and Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame (2019).
The Universe Inside
Artist: Jim Harrison III
Location: 39 North Mount Pleasant Ave. – The Printery
The old-fashioned, bronze typewriter stands as a symbol of Rheta Grimsley-Johnson’s dedication to journalism. After writing at the Monroe Journal, which sponsored this sculpture, for several years, Grimsley-Johnson left to write for the United Press International. She has received countless awards, including the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Distinctive Writing Award for Commentary, the Ernie Pyle Journalism Award and the Clarence Cason Award for Nonfiction. Additionally, she has been a Pulitzer finalist for commentary.
In Pursuit of Truth
Artist: Ringo Lisko
Location: 18 East Claiborne St. – BackRoads Antiques
This elegant sculpture of a scroll and pen, bordered with a wreath, memorializes Cynthia Tucker’s powerful writing. Born and raised in Monroeville, Tucker served as the editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She received a Neiman Fellowship at Harvard University in 1988 and won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. Her impactful commentary has made her an influential force in American journalism.
House for Hats
Artist: Alisa Boyd
Location: North Alabama Ave. – State of Alabama Pardons & Paroles
A beautifully decorated hat box celebrates Mark Childress, a Monroeville-born novelist. The hat box appears as a key item in his novel, Crazy in Alabama, which won The Spectator’s “Book of the Year” and was a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year.” Before Crazy in Alabama, Childress worked for the Birmingham News, as features editor for Southern Living and as regional editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has also published seven novels and three children’s books and has won The Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer. This sculpture is sponsored by the Alabama Writers Symposium.
Prissy the Cat
Artist: Alyson Smith
Location: 29 North Mount Pleasant Ave. – RSVP
A small bronze cat rests on the end of a bench in remembrance of Riley Kelly. As writer and editor for The Monroe County Journal, Kelly became an important part of the Monroeville community. He also served as an editor for The Frisco City Sun and a regional correspondent for The Montgomery Advertiser, The Mobile Press-Register and The Birmingham News. Outside of his journalism career, Kelly was an award-winning poet. Featured in numerous magazines and journals, Kelly’s poems were even anthologized in Scrod I, which won Book of the Year Award from the Alabama State Poetry Society.
Artist: Zane Boyd
Location: 15 North Mt. Pleasant Ave. – Monroeville/Monroe County EDA
The bold words, “Victory or Death,” stand proudly on this sculpture for William Barret Travis. Having settled in Monroe County in 1818, Travis became known for his role as Lt. Colonel in the Texas army during the Alamo. On February 24, 1836, Travis wrote a letter from the besieged Alamo asking for aid, declaring, “I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country. VICTORY or DEATH.”
Catch the Wind
Artist: Hunter Abdo
Location: 17 West Claiborne St. – Stuart Richeson State Farm
Two bronze kites fluttering in the wind commemorate Truman Capote and his work in short fiction. The two kites are images from his short story, “A Christmas Memory,” which won the O. Henry Award for “Best Short Story” and is frequently anthologized. Although born in New Orleans, Capote spent much of his childhood in Monroeville with his friend, Harper Lee.
Artist: Hannah Lincoln
Location: 42 East Claiborne St. – The Prop & Gavel
A mockingbird rests on a branch in honor of Harper Lee. This iconic image captured in bronze pays homage to one of the most beloved American novels. To Kill A Mockingbird is based in a small town, Maycomb, that is reminiscent of Monroeville. The characters, setting and plot of the novel bear a strong resemblance to Lee’s own Southern setting. Within the first two years of publication, To Kill A Mockingbird sold five million copies in 13 nations.
Cynthia Tucker Wins Pulitzer Prize
Artist: Amber Daum
Location: 86 North Alabama Ave. – Monroeville/Monroe County Chamber of Commerce
A bronze newspaper announcement etches Cynthia Tucker’s Pulitzer win in Monroeville history. Her insightful commentary is published in dozens of newspapers around the country. In addition to her Pulitzer, Tucker was also named Journalist of the Year (2006) by the National Association of Black Journalists and is a visiting professor of journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Georgia. She appears regularly on TV and radio shows as a commentator.
Artist: Pat Hoban
Location: 25 Pineville Road – Monroe County Parking Lot
A small bronze boat on the trail honors lawyer and author Mike Stewart. Stewart grew up in Vredenburgh, a small south Alabama sawmill town located in north Monroe County. Images and scenes from his life in Alabama are often reflected in his written works. While being a successful corporate attorney, Stewart has written four well-respected mystery novels.
Artist: Johnathan Lanier
Location: 65 Pineville Road – Office Park
The WSM microphone is a perfect image to honor one of the most influential country singers, Hank Williams. A native Alabaman, Williams’ songwriting and musicality won him acclaim across the country and for generations to come. He spent time with the McNeil family in the community of Fountain on the outskirts of Monroeville. His songwriting has bound the hearts of Alabamans and Americans alike. Williams was posthumously awarded the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement (1987) and the Pulitzer Prize for Special Awards and Citations (2010) for his pivotal role in transforming country music.
Artist: Josh Dugat
Location: 121 Pineville Road – Monroe County Public Library
An apple is a universal American symbol of teacher appreciation, and Marva Collins deserves immense appreciation. Born in Monroeville, Collins has had a profound impact on her students and on education as a whole. She taught in Alabama and Georgia before leaving to teach in Chicago for 14 years. Collins, unhappy with the quality of education at schools, opened her own Westside Preparatory School. She had amazing results with her students and wrote numerous books and manuals, which have become important works for public education. She has also been awarded the Jefferson Award for the Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged, Lincoln Award of Illinois for service to the state, a National Humanities Medal,and named as one of the Legendary Women of the World (along with Beverly Sills, Nancy Kissinger and Barbara Walters). It is reported that she was asked by Ronald Regan to be the United States Secretary of Education. Collins’ impact on education does not end with her students, but rather has affected education in America entirely.
Pulitzer Prize Announcement
Artist: Jennifer Gault
Location: 125 East Claiborne St. – Monroeville City Hall
A bronze telegram announcing a Pulitzer win commemorates the Monroeville writers who were given the prestigious award. They include:
Harper Lee — 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – To Kill A Mockingbird
Cynthia Tucker – 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary
Hank Williams – 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Special Awards and Citations