Obituary: Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird

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Lee, or Nelle as she was known to those close to her, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, a defining novel of 20th century American literature, has died at the age of 89.

Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the story of lawyer Atticus Finch’s battle to save the life of a black man – an indictment of racial prejudice – was published in 1960. It has been read by more than forty million people, making it one of the most widely read American novels of the 20th century and one of the most taught works of fiction ever written by an American.

It won her the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, was turned into an Oscar-winning film, starring Gregory Peck, and George Bush awarded Lee the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 for her contribution to American literature. It has been translated into more than forty languages and has never been out of print since it was first published – keeping it’s position firmly atop any list of books you have you read in your lifetime.

Lee never learned to accept her literary fame, “I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird,” Lee told a radio interviewer in 1964. “I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers, but, at the same time I sort of hoped someone would like it well enough to give me encouragement.”

Lee always maintained that she had no intention of releasing further works, and the world thought To Kill a Mockingbird would be the only novel she ever published. That is, until last year, long after the reading public had given up on seeing anything more, when the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman was discovered, accepted by most critics as an early draft of Mockingbird.

This month, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin, has announced he’s working on a stage adaptation of Mockingbird. Tributes are pouring in for the beloved writer and her fans say it best ‘She changed the world.’

Hannah Holmes

Image courtesy of The Guardian. 

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