(1926 – 2016)
Nelle Harper Lee (Monroeville, AL, USA, April 28, 1926 – Monroeville, AL, USA, February 19, 2016) was an American author known for her 1961 Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which deals with the issues of racism that the author observed as a child in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Despite being her only published book throughout virtually her entire life, it led to, inter alia, her being appointed to the National Council on the Arts by President Lyndon B. Johnson in June 1966, and being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature on November 5, 2007. The novel remains a bestseller with more than 30 million copies in print. In 1999, it was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a poll by the Library Journal.
In 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird was adapted into a screenplay by Horton Foote, which Harper Lee praised as “one of the best translations of a book to film ever made.” She also became a friend of Gregory Peck’s and remained close to the actor’s family; Peck’s grandson, Harper Peck Voll, is named after her. Peck won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, the father of the novel’s narrator, Scout.
Harper Lee received numerous honorary degrees but always declined to make a speech. Other significant contributions to literature include assisting her close friend Truman Capote in his research for the book In Cold Blood.
A book entitled Go Set a Watchman was written in the mid-1950s and controversially published in July 2015, only months before Harper Lee’s death. It was initially marketed as an alleged “sequel” to To Kill a Mockingbird, but later confirmed to actually have been To Kill a Mockingbird‘s first draft.
Major Awards and Honors
Pulitzer Prize (USA)
- 1961: Fiction – “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Presidential Medal of Freedom (USA)
- To Kill a Mockingbird (1961)
- Go Set a Watchman (2015)
– First draft of To Kill a Mockingbird; written in the 1950s and arguably never intended for publication.
A Selection of Quotes
To Kill a Mockingbird
“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”
Open Letter, O Magazine, July 2006
Now, 75 years [after To Kill a Mockingbird], in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books.”