Harper Lee, whose debut novel To Kill a Mockingbird became one of America’s most beloved classics, has died at the age of 89.
Lee passed away in the morning of February 19 in Monroeville, Alabama in the United States, where she lived.
Lee was born in Monroeville in 1926, the youngest of four children, and studied law at the University of Alabama. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, turning the reclusive Lee into an instant literary celebrity, a role she was never comfortable with.
I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.
- Harper Lee, in a 1964 interview with Roy Newquist
Lee received numerous literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for To Kill a Mockingbird, which sold more than 40 million copies. In 2007, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature, despite having published just one book.
Her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, released in 2015, was perhaps one of the most hotly anticipated books ever published. Set 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird – but actually written before it – the book received mixed reviews, and many readers, especially, expressed disappointment at racist sentiments expressed by Atticus Finch. Questions also arose as to whether Lee actually wanted the book to see the light of day. Despite this, it was one of the worldwide top sellers of 2015.
In a statement, Lee’s family said she passed away in her sleep early Friday morning:
“Her passing was unexpected. She remained in good basic health until her passing. The family is in mourning and there will be a private funeral service in the upcoming days, as she had requested.”
Lee’s nephew Hank Conner added: “This is a sad day for our family. America and the world knew Harper Lee as one of the last century’s most beloved authors.
“We knew her as Nelle Harper Lee, a loving member of our family, a devoted friend to the many good people who touched her life, and a generous soul in our community and our state. We will miss her dearly.”
Her publisher, HarperCollins, also released a statement, saying Lee died “peacefully”.
“The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness,” said the company’s president and publisher, Michael Morrison. “She lived her life the way she wanted to – in private – surrounded by books and the people who loved her. I will always cherish the time I spent with her.”
Her agent Andrew Nurnberg said, “Knowing Nelle these past few years has been not just an utter delight but an extraordinary privilege. When I saw her just six weeks ago, she was full of life, her mind and mischievous wit as sharp as ever. She was quoting Thomas More and setting me straight on Tudor history. We have lost a great writer, a great friend and a beacon of integrity.”
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Image courtesy of The Guardian