In 1960, a first-time author named Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel blended a young Southern girl’s coming-of-age story with a provocative account of her attorney father’s losing struggle to defend an African American man falsely accused of rape. The best-seller won a Pulitzer Prize and became one of the most iconic works in modern American literature.
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But while Mockingbird became famous, Lee, who passed away on Feb. 19 at age 89 in Monroeville, Ala., rejected celebrity. Although Lee never published a second novel, HarperCollins created a sensation in 2015 by releasing Go Set a Watchman, her earlier attempt to tell the Mockingbird story from a different angle.
Here are some interesting facts about Lee’s life and work.
- Her full name was Nelle Harper Lee. She dropped the Nelle when she became an author, because she was afraid readers would mispronounce it as “Nellie.”
- Her grandfather, Calder Alexander Lee, fought in the Confederate army during the Civil War.
- She worked as an airline reservation agent until a friend benevolently gave her enough money to quit her job for a year and become a full-time writer.
- She was a childhood friend of author Truman Capote and helped him research his classic, In Cold Blood. He also was the model for the character Dill in Mockingbird.
- When the Hanover County, Va., school board banned Mockingbird from its school library in 1966 as “immoral,” a local newspaper solicited donations to buy copies of the book for students who wanted to read it. Lee sent a $10 contribution to the fund.
- In the 1980s, she worked on a crime novel based upon the real-life tale of a preacher turned serial killer but never completed it.
- For decades, Lee lived in a rent-controlled apartment on New York’s Upper East Side. She returned frequently to her hometown of Monroeville and moved back permanently in 2007 after suffering a stroke. To honor her, the town erected a bronze statue of a young girl reading Mockingbird.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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