Author Harper Lee, best known for writing the Pulitzer Prize-Winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird has passed away at the age of 89. For the past few years, Lee was residing in a nursing home in Monroeville, Alabama, which was also the setting for her iconic novel. A Monroeville clerk, as well as the mayor, confirmed her death this morning.
Born Nelle Harper Lee, she was the youngest of four children. Her father, also a lawyer, was the inspiration for To Kill A Mockingbird's Atticus Finch. Lee was childhood friends with fellow writer Truman Capote, and is featured in the film adaptation of Capote's non-fiction work In Cold Blood, which she helped research.
Lee was dropped out of college to pursue a writing career in New York, where she met Michael Martin Brown, a Broadway composer. Brown later invested in her financially, helping her get her career off the ground by providing her with financial support to help her focus on her writing.
The result was the American classic To Kill A Mockingbird, set in Alabama in the 1930s. The main character was also a reflection of Lee, with Scout also having a lawyer for a father and being less interested in stereotypical "girly" things. The focus of the novel is the trial of a young black man accused of raping white woman, raising many important issues such as racism, classism, and gender politics.
To Kill A Mockingbird has often been touted as one of the greatest American novels, and with those universal themes that are still, sadly, prevalent today, it's hard to argue. Her work was adapted in to an Academy Award winning film, which has also consistently been called one of the greatest movies of all time.
Lee received many honors throughout her lifetime, beginning in 1966 when President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her to the National Council on the Arts. She was also granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and in 2010 President Barack Obama awarded her with the National Medal of Arts.
In 2007, Lee moved back to Monroeville, after suffering from a stroke, and resided in an assisted-living facility until her death.
Her poor health cast a cloud over the release of her first book since To Kill A Mockingbird, called Go Set A Watchman. Some believed she may have lacked the required competence to sign off on legal paperwork releasing the manuscript, which was discovered by her lawyer in 2011. Although an investigation by the Alabama Department of Human Resources found the claims of her incompetence and inability to consent to be unfounded, it was met with much criticism.
Lee never married or had children, and very rarely spoke to the media. Despite authoring only two books, she was an incredibly influential woman. This writer would never have picked up a pen were it not for the semi-autobiographical nature of To Kill A Mockingbird, and there are many others who feel the same. She never received formal training, having dropped out of college and university, and yet wrote one of the greatest books in American history.
Writing is something you'll never learn in any university or at any school. It's something that is within you, and if it isn't there, nothing can put it there.
Lee will be missed by friends, family, and fans of literature across the world. Our thoughts go out to those who mourn her passing, and we are grateful to have been influenced by her work.