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Harper Lee is popular for her publication of To kill A Mockingbird. Born in Alabama in 1926 as Nelle Harper Lee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist ironically published just one novel the whole of her life. This could probably be because she decided to focus on other things after taking home one of the most prestigious awards a writer can ever win. That is not to say she did not get involved in other writing projects. She helped a childhood friend, Truman Capote, to compose an article for the New Yorker, which later on became the infamous In Cold Blood.
Lee was the last born in a family of four children, growing up as a tomboy in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama. To a great extent, we can say her early life shaped her into becoming a renowned writer, specifically coining of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
She had a lawyer father, who happened to have been a staunch member of the Alabama state legislature in addition to owning a local newspaper. Not much is known about Lee’s mother except for the fact that she battled with mental illness. Some experts believe that she had a bipolar disorder.
Lee generally liked a quiet life. Most of her time was spent moving between New York City and Monroeville. While in Monroeville, she would stay with her sister Alice Lee, whom she constantly referred to as Atticus in a skirt. Alice was a lawyer and close confidant of Lee, who handled the writer’s financial and legal affairs.
Lee died on February 19, 2016, aged 89. According to Hank Connor, the author’s nephew, she died while deep asleep.
Some people are born writers; others have to learn how to do so. With regards to Lee, it is hard making an actual classification of whether she was born a writer or she did so through learning. That’s because, throughout her life, she had an encounter with writing particularly because her dad owned a local newspaper. When she joined high school, Lee studied English literature. Upon her graduation in 1944, she moved on to Huntingdon College in Montgomery, where she continued to focus on her passion for writing. Things like makeup, fashion, or dating did not matter to her that much.
She then transferred to the University of Alabama, where most students regarded her as a loner and individualist. That’s because she was never interested in socializing. However, she was an avid contributor to the school’s magazine, Rammer Jammer, where Lee wrote about a wide range of topics. It is in the same university that Lee studied law before dropping out to pursue her writing career.
The reason why we are interested in Lee is because of her writing. Had she progressed with a career in law, we probably would never have heard about her. Lee’s entry into professional writing is thanks to Broadway composer Michael Martin Brown and his wife, whom she met when she moved to New York City in 1949 at the age of 23. The Browns committed to supporting her for a whole year so that she could focus on writing. They even connected her to an agent, Maurice Crain. With Crain’s help, Lee got connected to J.B. Lippincott Company, which published her novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
The novel features Atticus Finch, a lawyer father to Scout Finch, just like Lee’s father was. Scout, as depicted in the novel, is not anything far from Lee in her youthful days.
Harper Lee’s contribution to America’s literary tradition is immense to the extent that it earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented by President George W. Bush. Thanks to her contributions, the book was adapted for cinema. The film earned Gregory Peck the best actor award for his portrayal of Finch.
There is one unresolved mystery around Lee’s life. Author Casey Cep wrote a detailed manuscript explaining Lee’s unfinished writing about murders committed by a preacher in Alexander City. The preacher is speculated to have murdered his wife, a neighbor, a nephew, brother, and step-daughters. However, he was never found guilty.