Harper Lee, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' author, dead at 89
20 February, 2016
Harper Lee, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' author, dead at 89
Harper Lee, whose debut novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird," immortalized her name with its story of justice and race in a small Southern town and became a classic of American literature, has died. She was 89.

Her death was confirmed Friday by the City Hall in Monroeville, Alabama, where she lived.

In a statement, Lee's family said, "The family of Nelle Harper Lee, of Monroeville, Alabama, announced today, with great sadness, that Ms. Lee passed away in her sleep early this morning. Her passing was unexpected. She remained in good basic health until her passing. The family is in mourning and there will be a private funeral service in the upcoming days, as she had requested."

Added nephew Hank Conner in the statement, "This is a sad day for our family. America and the world knew Harper Lee as one of the last century's most beloved authors. We knew her as Nelle Harper Lee, a loving member of our family, a devoted friend to the many good people who touched her life, and a generous soul in our community and our state. We will miss her dearly."

Reaction from people moved by Lee's work, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Congressman John Lewis (both Alabama natives), actor Matthew Modine, author John Green and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who had been jailed in Iran, was swift...

"I re-read #tokillamockingbird during my trial. Touched me much more than when I first read it in high school. Rest in peace Harper Lee," Rezaian tweeted.
Her publisher, HarperCollins, also released a statement.

"The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don't know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness," said the company's president and publisher, Michael Morrison. "She lived her life the way she wanted to- in private- surrounded by books and the people who loved her. I will always cherish the time I spent with her."

"Mockingbird," which was published in 1960, was drawn from elements of Lee's childhood in Monroeville. In steady prose shaded by memory and lyricism, she describes how an impulsive girl, Scout Finch, her older brother, Jem, their friend Dill and a variety of other townspeople get caught up in the case of Tom Robinson, a black man who's been accused of rape in the Depression-era town of Maycomb, Alabama.
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Through it all, no character is more indelible than that of Scout's widower father, Atticus Finch.
The scrupulous, fair-minded lawyer who defends the falsely accused Robinson in a racist courtroom set a standard for goodness and bravery that still resonates more than 50 years later, CNN reports.

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand," Atticus says to Scout at one point. "It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see through it no matter what."

The book won the Pulitzer Prize, and Gregory Peck, who played Atticus in the acclaimed 1962 movie, earned an Oscar for best actor. Finch was named the greatest hero in movie history in a 2003 American Film Institute survey. His reputation is such that a 2010 poll by the American Bar Association Journal was titled "The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)."
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Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville on April 28, 1926. She was the youngest of five children born to Amasa Coleman (A.C.) Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch. Though A.C. was not a widower like Atticus, Lee's mother was mentally ill, so she and her siblings were essentially raised by her father. The two became very close.
She met Truman Persons, who was two years older, as a child. The tomboyish Lee and the sometimes petulant Persons, who was sent away by his parents to spend his summers in Monroeville, became close friends and would spend hours reading and making up stories. Recognizing his daughter's imaginative temperament, A.C. Lee gave her an Underwood typewriter. She carried it everywhere.

Lee attended the University of Alabama, including a short stint in law school, but didn't finish. Instead, she moved to New York where Truman Persons, now Truman Capote, had established himself as one of the country's leading writers.

Lee, too, wanted to write but had little time to pursue the vocation until a pair of Capote's friends, Michael and Joy Brown, gave her a Christmas gift: They would pay all her expenses for a year. Lee took two to write "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Though the book seems effortless, she told Newquist it came in stops and starts.

"Naturally, you don't sit down in 'white hot inspiration' and write with a burning flame in front of you," she said. "But since I knew I could never be happy being anything but a writer, and 'Mockingbird' put itself together for me so accommodatingly, I kept at it because I knew it had to be my first novel, for better or for worse."

After she finished "Mockingbird," Capote -- fresh off the success of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" -- invited her to assist him on a new project: the story of a murdered Kansas family, the Clutters. Lee became part secretary, part interviewer, part go-between for the flamboyant Capote. The work they did would become the foundation of Capote's 1966 best-seller, "In Cold Blood."

"Mockingbird" was published in July 1960 and became an immediate best-seller. Indeed, it's never stopped selling; as of 2006, it had sold 30 million copies and moves a million more each year.

Lee was caught off guard by its success.

"I can't say that (my reaction) was one of surprise. It was one of sheer numbness. It was like being hit over the head and knocked cold," she told Newquist.

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