Harper Lee (1926 - 2016)

Harper Lee, author of the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, died early Friday. She was 89.

Born Nelle Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama, April 28, 1926, Lee attended Huntington College and the University of Alabama, though she didn't complete a degree. It was after college, when she moved to New York City and found work as an airline reservation agent, that she began writing fiction in her spare time. Her masterwork, To Kill a Mockingbird, was written over a period of several years, with guidance from an editor at her future publishing house, J.B. Lippincott & Co., and undergoing much revision and reworking to become the novel that was published in 1960.

To Kill a Mockingbird was an immediate and massive success, shooting to the tops of best-seller lists and garnering great critical acclaim. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel, and less than three years after the novel's publication, the movie adaptation premiered to widespread praise. Starring Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch (who was written based on elements of Lee's father, also a lawyer), the movie is considered one of the all-time classic courtroom dramas and one of the best-loved films in history. It also forged a lifelong friendship between Peck and Lee, who heartily approved of his performance.


Click to get weekly celebrity death news delivered to your inbox. 


Fans who were waiting to read Lee's sophomore effort spent many years disappointed. After the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee all but stopped writing and granted very few interviews and public appearances. Notably, she accompanied Truman Capote on a research trip for his nonfiction book In Cold Blood and assisted him with the research, but in many other respects, Lee's life after her debut success was a mystery to the general public.

In 2015, fans received a shocking but pleasant surprise when it was announced that a second Harper Lee novel had been found and would be published in July. Go Set a Watchman was, in fact, written before To Kill a Mockingbird and provided the genesis for the classic novel, as Lee pulled scenes from it and built upon them to write Mockingbird. Initial reports suggested that the second novel's publication may have been against Lee's will, as she was by then in poor health, having suffered a stroke and become partially blind and deaf – some suggested that she may have been unable to consent properly to the novel's publication. However, Lee herself dispelled these rumors when she made a statement expressing her happiness with the novel's publication. With its publication came further rumors, of a third manuscript found deep within Lee's files, but as of yet, it hasn't surfaced for the public.

We invite you to share condolences for Harper Lee in our Guest Book.