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Friday, 25 December 2015

Harper Lee

She was born Nelle Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama on April 28, 1926. Lee was named in honor of a grandmother called Ellen; (Nelle is Ellen spelled backwards). She grew up using the name Nelle; to this day, the people in her life refer to Lee as Nelle.

Her father an editor, lawyer and politician (he served in the Alabama House of Representatives) is purported to be the model upon some of the characteristics for Atticus Finch (from To Kill a Mockingbird) was based.

Truman Capote based the character of Idabel in his first novel, 1948's Other Voices, Other Rooms on neighbor and childhood friend, Harper Lee.

Lee worked as an airline reservation clerk while living in New York, before she was a writer.

Some friends offered to support Harper Lee for a year while she pursued writing full-time as a Christmas present. She left her job and penned the first draft of her story about life in the South, which was to become To Kill a Mockingbird.

Ultimately, Lee spent over two and a half years writing To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was published on July 11, 1960 and went on to be regarded as one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century.

First edition dust jacket Wikipedia Commons

To Kill a Mockingbird was credited to Harper Lee, as the authoress didn’t want to take the chance that people might mistake the name Nelle for Nellie.

To Kill a Mockingbird has been honored with numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Harper Lee was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush (see below) on November 5, 2007.

The 1962 movie To Kill a Mockingbird based on the book was also a classic. Starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, Mary Badham as Scout, and Robert Duvall making his film debut as Boo Radley, the film would go on to be nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director and would win three of them, including a Best Actor Oscar for Peck.

The watch used in the film was a prop, but Harper Lee gave Gregory Peck her father's watch after the film was completed because he reminded her so much of him.

Harper Lee largely disappeared from the limelight after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Due to themes including racial injustice, and sexual and physical violence, the book has been banned repeatedly since its publishing by school boards and libraries around America.

Harper Lee donated $10 to one school board that tried to ban To Kill a Mockingbird with a note that said "I hope [the $10] will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice."

Lee was a research assistant to her friend, Truman Capote when he wrote In Cold Blood in 1966, based on real-life events in Holcombe, Kansas. Both of them spent two months conducting interviews for the book. Some critics even claim she should be credited as an author of the book. He dedicated the novel to her.

Harper Lee

Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman in the mid-1950s, but her editor persuaded her to turn some of the story's flashback sequences into a separate novel, which became To Kill A Mockingbird.

Go Set a Watchman was published in July 2015. The book is set 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird. The title comes from Isaiah 21:6: "For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth."

The novel has had mixed reviews, with many Harper Lee fans shocked to discover that Atticus Finch, the moral center of To Kill a Mockingbird, is painted as a racist "bigot".

Harper Lee died in her sleep on February 19, 2016. She was aged 89. Her funeral was held the next day at First United Methodist Church in Monroeville, Alabama.


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