At a Glance
Harper Lee was born Nelle Harper Lee in Monroeville, Alabama, in 1926. Her best friend growing up was Truman Capote, the author of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's. Both moved to New York City, where they found success as writers. Lee published To Kill A Mockingbird in 1960, and the novel has since gone on to become one of the most widely read books in all of history. Although Lee never married, she was not reclusive. Known for being pleasant and witty, she granted a few interviews when To Kill a Mockingbird appeared in 1960, but since then fought fiercely to stay out of the public eye. For years, there was much speculation about her inaccessibility, and why she completed only one book. Perhaps it was because Harper Lee—through the spirited tomboy Scout and the quietly private Boo Radley—had already revealed everything about herself that we needed to know.
Facts and Trivia
- Harper Lee’s mother was Frances Cunningham Finch. Lee uses all three of her mother’s names for characters in To Kill a Mockingbird.
- To Kill a Mockingbird was made into a major motion picture starring Gregory Peck in 1962. Peck won an Oscar for his performance in the film.
- To Kill a Mockingbird was banned by Virginia’s Hanover County School Board in 1966 because it deals with the subject of rape. Harper Lee defended her book as espousing a Christian ethic and an honorable code of conduct. She scathingly questioned whether the school board members, in grossly misjudging her novel’s content, were illiterate.
- Harper Lee's second novel, Go Set a Watchman, was finally published in 2015. It was an immediate best seller. Lee died the following year at the age of 89.
Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926. Her father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was the son of a Confederate veteran and a Florida legislator. A. C. Lee himself was a prominent citizen of Monroeville, a practicing lawyer who served in the Alabama legislature for twelve years. He was also involved in the management of the local newspaper. Harper Lee’s mother was Frances Finch Lee, whose family had moved from Virginia to Alabama, where they founded Finchburg.
With her sisters, Alice and Louise, and her brother, Edwin, Harper grew up in the quiet little town of Monroeville. In her childhood, like Jean Louise (Scout) Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), Harper used to go up to the courthouse balcony to watch her father appear in court. Like Scout, Harper and Edwin had a friend from the city, Truman Capote, who spent much of his childhood with elderly relatives in Monroeville and who was later to become a distinguished writer. Harper herself had begun writing by the time she was seven.
After attending the public schools in Monroeville, Lee went to Huntington College in Montgomery, Alabama, for one year, then in 1945 transferred to the University of Alabama, where she remained from 1945 to 1950, except for one year spent as an exchange student at the University of Oxford. At the University of Alabama, Lee continued her writing, contributing to various campus publications. Then she made her decision. She must be a writer. Much to her father’s disappointment, Lee left the University of Alabama six months short of a law degree. She moved to New York, where she supported herself by working as an airline reservations clerk for Eastern Airlines and British Overseas Airways. Eventually, she took some of her work to a literary agent. He was particularly interested in one of the short stories, and he suggested that she expand it to a novel.
Quitting her job, Lee began working full time on what was to be To Kill a Mockingbird. In 1957, she had a manuscript completed; however, the editors at the publishing committee to which she submitted it asked her to rework it, tightening the structure. She did, and the book was published in 1960.
To Kill a Mockingbird was a best seller. It was a Literary Guild Selection, a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate, and a Reader’s Digest
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