Today, the literary world mourns the loss of a brilliant mind. Known to her friends and family as “Nelle”, Harper died at the age of 89..
“The world has lost a brilliant mind and a great writer,” says Spencer Madrie, owner of Ol’ Curiosities and Book Shoppe, a small, independent book store in Lee’s hometown that focuses largely on Lee’s works and those of other Alabama authors.
Harper Lee had studied law at the University of Alabama but six months before graduating she moved to New York in 1949. She started working as an airlines reservations clerk until she received a monetary gift to pursue her writing career. Eight years later, she submitted her manuscript for “To Kill a Mockingbird” to J.B. Lippincott & Co., which asked her to rewrite it and on July 11, 1960, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published with critical and commercial success. The novel found instant success. It sold more than 40 million copies in English and has been translated since then in 40 languages.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize a year later, in 1961, one year after its launch, her novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” became an American classic. The novel is the story of a girl nicknamed Scout growing up in a Depression-era Southern town. A black man has been wrongly accused of raping a white woman, and Scout’s father, the resolute lawyer Atticus Finch, defends him despite threats and the scorn of many.
It continues to be one of the most widely taught books, and a required reading in American high schools. When the Modern Library compiled a list of the 100 best novels, according to readers, “Mockingbird” came in at No. 5.
Those who have not read the book will remember its movie adaptation directed by Robert Mulligan, which also became an American classic. The feature film won the Academy Award for best picture in 1963 while Gregory Peck, who played Atticus, was named best actor and screenwriter Horton Foote won for his adaptation of the book.
Her literary silence lasted 55 years until a second manuscript “Go Set A Watchman” suddenly surfaced. Found by her new attorney Tonja Carter in a safe along with the “Mockingbird” original manuscript, some American media speculated that Lee had been taken advantage of after her sister Alice, who was her attorney, passed away. Set 20 years later but written before “Mockingbird”, the novel was published during the summer of 2015.
“Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, mobile phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books,” she wrote.
Harper Lee who suffered a stroke in 2007, remained enigma until her death this Friday, refusing all interviews. Hank Conner, a nephew of Ms. Lee’s, said that she died in her sleep at the Meadows, an assisted living facility in Monroeville, Alabama.