Harper Lee, born Nelle Harper Lee, in Monroeville, Alabama in 1926, would become best known for her novels, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchmen. Her father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was a lawyer, and her mother was Frances Finch, who suffered from mental illness most of her life. Nelle grew up a tomboy and was close childhood friends with Truman Capote and they would continue to be friends as they both became well-known Southern writers. She went to Huntington College, an all women’s college, and later transferred to the University of Alabama to study law. It was there she realized that she wanted to be a writer and not a lawyer, so without finishing her degree, she moved to New York to pursue a career as a writer.
In New York, she worked for a short period of time in a bookstore and then started to work as an airline reservation clerk. After struggling with her job as an airline reservation clerk, she was finally able to quit her job and write full-time due to a Christmas gift from her friend, Broadway composer and lyricist, Michael Martin Brown and his wife Joy Brown. They offered to support her financially for a year so she could focus on her writing. She was also reunited with Truman Capote and became his research assistant for his book, In Cold Blood. Later on, when his book would be published, he dedicated it to her, but did not credit her for her research assistance and this caused a riff in their friendship.
To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and surprised the world with its success. It won numerous awards and continues to be taught in schools even today. Its close look at a small Alabama town through the lens of Scout and the way class and racism functions still draws people to the story.
Harper Lee stayed out of the public eye for most of her later years, especially after all the success she generated with her To Kill a Mockingbird. She lived with her sister, Alice, in Alabama, declined interviews, and in general avoided the spotlight. In 2007, she suffered from a stroke, and moved into an assisted living facility.
Besides numerous articles and essays, Harper Lee did not release another book until 2015, fifty-five years after To Kill a Mockingbird. No one thought she would release another novel again, and everyone thought this new book was the long awaited sequel. Her lawyer, Tonja Carter, found the manuscript for Go Set a Watchmen in a safety deposit box and both women decided to publish it with HarperCollins. It was not the sequel to the novel, but instead the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird with a much older Scout returning home to Maycomb, Alabama, from New York. The novel garnered a lot of attention and was immediately a best seller. Atticus Finch, Scout’s lawyer father, is portrayed complexly and negatively in the novel, creating a new way to analyze the books Lee wrote.
In February 2016, Lee passed away at age 89 in her hometown, Monroeville, Alabama. She died in her sleep at the assisted living facility, the Meadows. Her legacy still continues to impact lives through her beloved books.
Anderson, Nancy G. “Harper Lee.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. 19, March 2007. Web.
“Harper Lee Biography.” Biography.com. 15, March 2018. Web.