Bestselling writer delivers insight into ‘Mockingbird’ author Lee

Charles Shields, author of the New York Times bestseller Mockingbird:

Upcoming events

Memories of Harper and Truman with Lawrence resident Kay Wells, 7 p.m. Thursday, Lawrence Public Library Auditorium, 707 Vt. Registration requested.

Dole Institute Forum with Alex Heard, author of “The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex and Secrets in the Jim Crow South,” 7:30 p.m. April 20, Dole Institute of Politics, 2350 Petefish Drive

“Struggle and Resilience: Kansas During the Great Depression,” presentation by Lorraine Madway of Wichita State University, 2 p.m. April 23, Watkins Community Museum, 1047 Mass.

Read Across Lawrence Finale: “The World According to Atticus,” presentation by Stephen McAllister, 7 p.m. April 28, Historic Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass.

New York Times bestselling author Charles Shields has spent years of his life researching and writing about the life of “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee.

He spent a few hours Thursday evening with Lawrence residents talking about the American novelist as part of the 2011 Read Across Lawrence Kickoff. Shields, who’s written the bestseller “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee” and “I Am Scout,” a biography of Lee, addressed a full auditorium at Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.

“I’m very much in favor of these one-book, one-community reads,” Shields said. “I see it as a great unifier and if I’m asked to come, I’ll be there. “

Read Across Lawrence, an annual event sponsored by a number of local businesses, selects one literary work for the community to read together. This year’s book is Lee’s novel. Rachel Smalter Hall, director of adult programs for the library, helped organize this year’s events.

“The turnout was fantastic,” she said. “Everyone I told had these positive memories of reading it when they were younger or had heard good things about it.”

Shields injected humor and insight into the book he said that about two-thirds of American high schools use in their curriculums. In writing “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee,” Shields interviewed more than 600 people, allowing him to paint a comprehensive picture of the famous author’s life.

Discussion sessions will take place throughout the month. Richard Noggle, an English instructor at KU, has gotten involved with the discussions through Twitter using the #TKAMB hashtag.

Thursday’s kickoff event was just one of several planned locally for the rest of the month. Shields, who’s speaking at the high schools while in Lawrence, said people often read “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the way it highlights important social issues.

“It addresses one of the most important questions posed to human beings, which is how do you get along with people who are different,” Shields said. “It’s something we all wrestle with.”