Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, dies aged 89

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The celebrated author Harper Lee has died at age of 89, reports al.com of Alabama Media Group, citing “multiple sources in her hometown of Monroeville”.

The “reclusive” author won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961 for To Kill a Mockingbird, which has become a classic of modern American literature, and was made into a Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck.

Lee was born April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. Widely regarded as the inspiration for To Kill a Mockingbird’s setting, the fictional “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama, Lee lived most of her years quietly in her hometown. She was the youngest of four children, the daughter of lawyer Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee.

Lee was famously reluctant to engage with the media, and did not publish another novel until Go Set a Watchman in July 2015. An early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird found in Lee’s home, its release was controversial as publications labelled the timing of the manuscript’s discovery “suspicious”.

This was due to Lee’s worsening health (she suffered a stroke in 2007), her much-publicised refusal to publish another work throughout the rest of her life, and the death of her sister and caregiver Alice, who passed away just two months before the announcement was made.

Harper Lee on the porch in Monroeville, Alabama. Photo: Donald Urhbock/Life/Getty

The New Statesman’s Erica Wagner wrote in her review of Go Set a Watchman:

Yet part of the wider fascination with Mockingbird always lay in it being Lee’s only novel. Nelle Harper Lee, who will be 90 next year, is often lazily described as a “recluse”. What this seems to mean, in 21st-century parlance is “someone who doesn’t give interviews”. Like Neil Armstrong, another figure whose staggering fame was an early harbinger of the growth of celebrity culture, she wisely decided early on that she had little to gain by talking to the press. [...] To Kill a Mockingbird was a fascinating singularity; the novel was all the more adored because it stood alone.

Earlier this month it was announced that Aaron Sorkin is adapting To Kill A Mockingbird for Broadway.

Erica Wagner, Anna Leszkiewicz and Caroline Crampton discuss Harper Lee on SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

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