Harper Lee, the author of the influential and popular novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was born on April 28, 1926
Her novel has continued to receive wide critical acclaim since it was written in 1960. She had earned a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. Then the novel was adapted into an Academy-Award-winning film in 1962 by director Robert Mulligan.
Harper Lee received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
It continues to be one of the most widely-read books dealing with race in the United States. The book explores very serious issues like rape, racial inequality, gender roles, and class. This is why the book continues to be used in classrooms as a staple educational tool as a way of teaching and learning about prejudice and racial issues in America.
The issues of racial injustice continue to run rampant in America, meaning Harper Lee’s novel still speaks a lot of truth.
Harper Lee Early Life and College
The events in her book “To Kill a Mockingbird” are loosely based on her family, neighbors, and environment preset in her hometown. The book is the perspective of two young children growing up in the 1930s in the deeply racist south.
She had been the youngest of four children. Her father, Dr. William W. Harper, worked as a lawyer. He had once defended two Black men accused of murdering a storekeeper.
She grew up in Monroeville, Alabama. Harper Lee attended Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. She then went on to study law at the University of Alabama. This is where she began to start her career in writing. She wrote for the school’s literary magazines.
She also wrote short stories that were centralized around racial injustice issues. Harper Lee had been one of the few to write, or even talk about, racial injustice at college campuses like the ones she attended.
Eventually, she moved to New York City and worked for British Overseas Airways Corporation. She still continued to write about the kind of people in Monroeville. She gave her work to an editor, J.B. Lippincott, who told her to quit her day job and focus on writing. After writing for a full year, she eventually got the book published on July 11, 1960.
Harper Lee and Truman Capote
Harper Lee grew up near and was very close friends with Truman Capote. He is known for his book “In Cold Blood.” Lee actually helped him research and compose the article for The New Yorker that would turn into his nonfiction masterpiece.
“In Cold Blood” is about a 1959 murder of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in Kansas. It is the second-best true crime book in history.
Her character in “To Kill a Mockingbird” named Dill Harris is based off Capote.
According to Biography.com, Lee would often step up and protect Truman Capote from bullies at school. The two met again in New York in the 1950s. She would become his research assistant, traveling to help interview different sources. She was even invited to the execution of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith in 1965 but declined.
Sadly, the two had a bit of a rift after his book was published in 1965. He had not acknowledged her for her contributions. Despite this, the two still remained friends.
Harper Lee Later Life
As for the rest of Harper Lee’s life, she lived a very reserved lifestyle. She was quiet, private, and was often going between New York and Monroeville. She avoided the spotlight in any way she could. Lee even gave anonymous donations to charities with the wealth she made from selling over 40 million copies of her classic novel.
Lee had only ever written two books. One was called “Go Set a Watchman,” which was set in the 1950s and is considered the first draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In the 1960s, it was rumored she was working on something else, but it was never published. She also began a nonfiction book about an Alabama serial killer called “The Reverend,” which she never had published either.
Harper Lee passed away on February 19, 2016, when she was 89. She had passed away naturally in her sleep.