Harper Lee Biography

Harper Lee Biography

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 to be 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, and 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.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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...

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Harper Lee Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee not only captured the essence of what it was like to grow up in a small Southern town in the 1930’s, but she also showed what it was to grow up in such a society with a father who was a man of principle, who would risk his reputation and his life to defend a black man accused of a crime that violated the most sacred taboos of his society.

By making Tom Robinson’s story only one of a number of episodes in the novel, all with a similar pattern, Lee broadened the subject of her work and expanded its theme. What Atticus is endeavoring to give to his children and to his community is the power to empathize with others and the courage to defend them against injustice.

Harper Lee Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The third daughter and youngest child of Amasa Coleman Lee, an attorney and newspaper publisher, and Frances Finch Lee, reportedly a somewhat eccentric pianist, Nelle Harper Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, where she was born on April 28, 1926. She attended public school there, then went to Huntington College for Women in Montgomery for a year, before transferring to the University of Alabama in 1945. Lee edited the college newspaper, the Rammer Jammer, and spent a year as an exchange student at Oxford University.

In 1950, Lee entered law school, no doubt with the intention of following in her father’s footsteps. However, after one year she decided to abandon the study of law and go to New York City to pursue a career in writing. Throughout the early 1950’s, Lee worked by day as a reservation clerk for Eastern Airlines and British Overseas Airways, living in a cramped apartment with no hot water and writing in her free time. During this period she also made many trips to Monroeville to be with her ailing father, who died in 1962. Happily, Amasa Lee did live long enough to see To Kill a Mockingbird become a hugely successful book.

In a short article published in McCall’s in December, 1961, called “Christmas to Me,” Lee recounts how she missed her home and family, contrasting New York City with memories of Monroeville during the Christmas season. However, she made some very close friends in her adopted home, and she spent Christmas with one of these families, who surprised her with a monetary gift. On the accompanying card were the words, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” She was overwhelmed, but her benefactors felt that their faith...

(The entire section is 716 words.)

Harper Lee Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Harper Lee is known for a single book. Her first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was published when the author was thirty-four. It won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1961 and was made into a film for which Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for Best Actor. For decades, the novel has been considered a classic text in the study of prejudice. For years, Lee described herself as working on a second novel, but it did not appear. Perhaps Lee felt that in To Kill a Mockingbird she had explored so completely the problems of prejudice and identity that she could not better her effort.

Ironically, from the time of her birth Harper Lee had the best that such a society could offer. Her parents, Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Finch Lee, were both members of old, highly respected Southern families. After settling in Monroeville, Alabama, Amasa Coleman Lee became a community leader, a state legislator, and a newspaper editor. As a practicing attorney, he was no stranger to controversy. Watching him from her vantage point in the courthouse balcony, Lee learned to think for herself and to stand up for what she believed.

Although she was a female member of a patriarchal society, Lee did not assume the role of wife and mother, like most girls of her generation, or become a lawyer, as her father intended. It was not Harper, but her sister Alice, who was to become their father’s law partner. Six months short of graduation, Harper Lee left law...

(The entire section is 429 words.)

Harper Lee Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nelle Harper Lee’s contribution to literature has been limited in output. Yet with her one novel, Lee has accomplished more than many prolific writers have. To Kill a Mockingbird contains an astute and touching portrait of life in a small southern town during the 1930’s. For this novel Lee received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1961. In 1962 the novel was made into an Academy Award-winning film, with a screenplay by Horton Foote. In the same year the novel received Best Sellers’ Paperback of the Year award.

Lee was born in a small Alabama town to Frances Finch and Amasa Coleman Lee. Her father, who had a law practice in Monroeville, provided the role model for Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, while her mother provided the main characters’ surname of Finch. Lee’s family is related to the southern Civil War general Robert E. Lee.

Lee’s formal education included the public schools of Monroeville and a year at Huntington College. In 1945 she attended the University of Alabama; then she spent a year abroad at the University of Oxford. After her return to the United States, Lee continued at the University of Alabama, though she left in 1950, only six months short of obtaining a law degree. Upon leaving Alabama, Lee went to New York City, where she worked as an airlines reservation clerk. Lee had started writing at the age of seven, but it was only during her stint in New York City that she finally...

(The entire section is 573 words.)

Harper Lee Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, Alabama. The youngest child of Amasa C. and Frances Finch Lee, she attended...

(The entire section is 212 words.)

Harper Lee Biography

(Novels for Students)
Harper Lee Published by Gale Cengage

Although Harper Lee has long maintained that To Kill a Mockingbird is not autobiographical, critics...

(The entire section is 495 words.)