Harper Lee: Clarity, Coherence, Cadence

Every morning, coffee in hand, I look forward to two things – The SKIMM,a breezily written daily news summary,and the poem sent from The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. Honestly, you should get them both: one is news, the other is art.

What’s cool about the Writer’s Almanac, is that in addition to a daily poem, the feed highlights “It’s the birthday of …” and includes biographical and unexpected fun facts about known and unknown literary figures. Today, April 28, is the birthday of author Harper Lee. Here is how the Almanac introduced her…

“It’s the birthday of novelist Harper Lee (books by this author), born Nelle Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama (1926). Childhood friends described Lee as the “Queen of the Tomboys,” unafraid to get in playground fights with boys. Sometimes she beat up the boys who were bullying Truman Capote, who spent summers with relatives in Monroeville, and became one of Lee’s closest friends. Capote’s aunt later wrote: “A dress on the young Nelle would have been as out of place as a silk hat on a hog.” “

Notice how much the writer packs into three sentences. They locate Lee’s place (the south), her persona (tomboy), famous friend, (Capote), character (protector) and end with a flavorful voice from the source. They integrated the essential elements of a great story: characters, conflict, and colorful descriptions. What particularly caught my eye was the Almanac’s description of Lee’s influential high school English teacher, Gladys Watson, who “demanded that her students abide by the “three C’s” in their writing: clarity, coherence, and cadence.”

These three “C’s” apply equally to excellent presentations. Clear speaking comes from clear thinking. That first and foremost and without it, the other “C’s can’t exist. Coherence creates a framework that allows readers and listeners to follow the path of your ideas. And finally, cadence adds the magical rhetorical quality of movement and energy so necessary for compelling reading and oration.

As William Faulkner says, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” How lucky Harper Lee was to have such a gifted teacher. How grateful I am to the Writer’s Almanac for winging Miss Watson’s “3C’s” my way, albeit seventy-five years later.

imgresHere is a photo of Miss Watson with Harper Lee and her niece.

I will sign off as they do everyday in the Writers Almanac.

“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

  • Charlotte

 

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