Harper Lee Has Died

by Jenny Hollander

On Friday, renowned novelist and Pulitzer Prize winner Harper Lee died at the age of 89, sources from her hometown in Monroeville, Alabama confirmed to Friday morning. Lee was best known for her famed novel To Kill A Mockingbird, published in 1960, an award-winning piece of work continues to reverberate around the world today. She had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Pulitzer Prize for her contributions to literature. Harper Lee was the name under which she published work, but her real name was Nelle Harper Lee.

Last summer, Lee's second novel, Go Set A Watchman, was published and met with awe, shock, and criticism. Initially pitched to the public as a sequel, as it features older versions of the original characters in To Kill A Mockingbird — the unforgettable Atticus Finch, whose name still continues to top baby-name lists, along with Finch's son and daughter, Jem and Scout — it was later revealed to be more akin to a first draft of Lee's novel. Lee had maintained for a half-century that she would never write a second book, and so the publication of the book (particularly given Lee's age and frail state) came under scrutiny.

Lee had been close friends with Truman Capote in the '60s, and had assisted him with research for his nonfiction magnus opus, In Cold Blood, which diligently reconstructed a quadruple murder in 1959.


Lee also penned articles and other books, but none of the books were published until Go Set A Watchman, largely because Lee herself was dissatisfied with them, feeling that they would not be a worthy follow-up to To Kill A Mockingbird.

It's impossible to underestimate the impact of that novel, which covered race in the South in the '30s from the viewpoint of children (Lee had admitted that it was partly autobiographical). The LA Times reports that it is ranked closely to the Bible in terms of the most influential books ever published. It has been transformed into screenplays, plays, movies, and translated into more than 30 languages; more than 30 million copies of the book have been sold across the globe. It is taught in classrooms across the United States and beyond, and raises defining questions of race, gender, and justice.

Lee's name will always be synonymous with what has long been seen as one of the great American novels of all time, and it would appear that she wanted it to be so.