Nelle Harper Lee, known as just Harper Lee, was an American novelist, best known for To Kill A Mockingbird. She was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and quickly came to be regarded as a staple of classic American literature. Soon, no one could graduate from high school, without reading the novel.
Let us celebrate Lee’s birthday by getting to know a little more about her life, and work.
The Beginning of Harper Lee
- Named Nelle, her grandmother’s name spelled backwards, Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama.
- She had three siblings: Alice, Louise and Edwin.
- In high school, Lee became interested in English literature.
- Upon graduation, she attended an all-female school, before transferring into the University of Alabama. It was there that she studied law for several years. Perhaps it was influenced by her father, who served in the Alabama State Legislature.
- She wrote for the university newspaper there, but she didn’t complete a degree. Instead, she went to Oxford University. It was her father’s attempt at getting her more interested in studying law in Alabama once again, in order to finish. Obviously, his plan didn’t work.
- In 1949, Lee’s life changed when she moved to New York, and became an airline reservation agent. During this time, she wrote fiction in her spare time.
- By November 1956, she had written several long stories, so she found an agent.
- The news broke out, so her family gave her a wonderful Christmas gift the following month. A note that simply read “you have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” Together, her family had pooled one year of wages for her to live on, for the next 365 days.
- By the spring of 1957, she’d given her agent her first manuscript—Go Set a Watchman.
Lee’s Writing Career
- During the next couple of years, the novel reached its final form and was retitled To Kill a Mockingbird.
- From the time of publication, to her death in 2016, Lee barely ever agreed to interviews or public appearances.
- With the exception of a some short essays, she never published anything else until 2015.
- She’d begun working on a novel titled The Long Goodbye, but she never finished it. This was a trend, as she had done the same in the 80’s, with a book about an Alabama serial murder.
- In 2015, it was found out that To Kill A Mockingbird was supposed to be the first book of a trilogy, with Go Set a Watchman as the last book, and another novel connecting both, in the middle.
- The manuscript for Watchman was found in her safe, and with a lot of persuation, Lee finally agreed to publish it.
- Harper Lee died how most of us hope we will one day, peacefully in her sleep. It was a chilly February morning, in 2016. She was 89 years old.
- She lived in Monroeville, Alabama, where she was born.
Harper Lee is a prime example of an introverted author, unwilling to really step outside her comfort zone. She published one book voluntarily, before quitting. The only reason she published Go Set a Watchman was because it was originally the first attempt at writing To Kill a Mockingbird. The story was already written, the manuscript completed. And even still, it took coaxing before she finally agreed to its publication.
Despite her introverted nature, Lee is a staple in American literature. Her work is a part of high school curriculums all over the country. She accomplished what a select few authors do in a lifetime: creating a stable career off of one novel.
Happy 90th birthday, Harper Lee!