Harper Lee, author of the widely loved novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has died at age 89. Multiple sources in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, reportedly confirmed her passing today.
Lee became a literary celebrity with the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960. The book, which highlighted human dignity and integrity against a backdrop of racial injustice in a small Alabama town, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the following year. A film adaptation featuring actor Gregory Peck opened to huge commercial success in 1962.
For decades, the book was Lee’s only major work of published fiction, but it was hugely influential for generations of US readers. It has sold more than 10 million copies, and is one of the most widely taught novels in US schools.
Lee was never comfortable with the attention the novel won her, and she practically disappeared from public life after it appeared. The world, however, continued waiting for a new novel from her, and on occasion she hinted that she had a story in progress.
In 2015, a book did come out. Go Set a Watchman was said to be a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. In fact, it was more of a first draft, featuring Scout, the young girl who was the original novel’s main character, as an adult. Accusations arose that octogenarian Lee was not able to consent to the manuscript’s release, and that various parties had signed on her behalf.
Though Lee moved in 1949 to New York, she spent many years guarding her privacy in Monroeville. She was born in the town on April 28, 1926, and it served as clear inspiration for the setting in To Kill a Mockingbird.
In 2007, Lee suffered a stroke, but recovered and later settled in Monroeville permanently to care for her sister, Alice, who died in 2014. She was said to eat breakfast every morning at the same fast-food spot, and was friendly with her neighbors. Like the countless Americans who knew her only through her work, they will undoubtedly miss her.