Harper Lee (right) with producer Alan J. Pakula in a 1962 publicity photo for the film of To Kill a Mockingbird
|Born||April 28, 1926
|Literary movement||Southern Gothic|
Nelle Harper Lee (born April 28, 1926) is an American author known for her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom of the United States for her contribution to literature in 2007.
Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama on April 28, 1926, the youngest of four children of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch. Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who served in the Alabama State Legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and a precocious reader, and was best friends with her schoolmate and neighbor, the young Truman Capote.
In 1944, Lee graduated from Monroe County High School in Monroeville, and enrolled at the all-female Huntingdon College in Montgomery for one year, and pursued a law degree at the University of Alabama from 1945 to 1949, pledging the Chi Omega sorority. Lee wrote for several student publications and spent a year as editor of the campus humor magazine, Rammer Jammer. Though she did not complete the law degree, she studied for a summer in Oxford, England, before moving to New York City in 1950, where she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines and BOAC.
Lee continued as a reservation clerk until 1958, when she devoted herself to writing. She lived a frugal life, traveling between her cold-water-only apartment in New York City and her family home in south-central Alabama to care for her father.
|“||I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. 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 enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.||”|
—Harper Lee, quoted in Newquist, 1964
Having written several long stories, Harper Lee located an agent in November 1956. The following month at the East 50th townhouse of her friends Michael Brown and Joy Williams Brown, she received a gift of a year's wages with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." Within a year, she had a first draft. Working with J. B. Lippincott & Co. editor Tay Hohoff, she completed To Kill a Mockingbird in the summer of 1959. Published July 11, 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was an immediate bestseller and won great critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. It remains a bestseller with more than 30 million copies in print. In 1999, it was voted "Best Novel of the Century" in a poll by the Library Journal.
Many details of To Kill a Mockingbird are apparently autobiographical. Like Lee, the tomboy (Scout) is the daughter of a respected small-town Alabama attorney. The plot involves a legal case, the workings of which would have been familiar to Lee, who studied law. Scout's friend Dill was inspired by Lee's childhood friend and neighbor, Truman Capote, while Lee is the model for a character in Capote's first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms.
Harper Lee has downplayed autobiographical parallels. Yet Truman Capote, mentioning the character Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, described details he considered biographical: "In my original version of Other Voices, Other Rooms I had that same man living in the house that used to leave things in the trees, and then I took that out. He was a real man, and he lived just down the road from us. We used to go and get those things out of the trees. Everything she wrote about it is absolutely true. But you see, I take the same thing and transfer it into some Gothic dream, done in an entirely different way."
After completing To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee accompanied Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, to assist him in researching what they thought would be an article on a small town's response to the murder of a farmer and his family. Capote expanded the material into his best-selling book, In Cold Blood (1966).
Since publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee has granted almost no requests for interviews or public appearances, and with the exception of a few short essays, has published no further writings. She did work on a second novel--The Long Goodbye--eventually filing it away unfinished. During the mid-1980s, she began a factual book about an Alabama serial murderer, but also put it aside when she was not satisfied. Her withdrawal from public life prompted unfounded speculation that new publications were in the works. Similar speculation followed the American writers J. D. Salinger and Ralph Ellison.
Lee said of the 1962 Academy Award–winning screenplay adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird by Horton Foote: "I think it is one of the best translations of a book to film ever made". She also became a friend of Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, the father of the novel's narrator, Scout. She remains close to the actor's family. Peck's grandson, Harper Peck Voll, is named after her.
In June 1966, Lee was one of two persons named by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the National Council on the Arts.
Lee showed her feistiness in her 1966 letter to the editor in response to the attempts of a Richmond, Virginia area school board to ban To Kill a Mockingbird as “immoral literature”:
Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board’s activities, and what I’ve heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.
Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that “To Kill a Mockingbird” spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is “immoral” has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.
I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism. Therefore I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enroll the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.
When Lee attended the 1983 Alabama History and Heritage Festival in Eufaula, Alabama, she presented the essay "Romance and High Adventure."
Lee has been known to split time between an apartment in New York and her sister's home in Monroeville. She has accepted honorary degrees but has declined to make speeches. In March 2005, she arrived in Philadelphia — her first trip to the city since signing with publisher Lippincott in 1960 — to receive the inaugural ATTY Award for positive depictions of attorneys in the arts from the Spector Gadon & Rosen Foundation. At the urging of Peck's widow Veronique, Lee traveled by train from Monroeville to Los Angeles in 2005 to accept the Los Angeles Public Library Literary Award. She has also attended luncheons for students who have written essays based on her work, held annually at the University of Alabama. On May 21, 2006, she accepted an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. To honor her, the graduating seniors were given copies of Mockingbird before the ceremony and held them up when she received her degree.
On May 7, 2006, Lee wrote a letter to Oprah Winfrey (published in O, The Oprah Magazine in July 2006). Lee wrote about her love of books as a child and her dedication to the written word: "Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books."
While attending an August 20, 2007 ceremony inducting four members into the Alabama Academy of Honor, Lee responded to an invitation to address the audience with "Well, it's better to be silent than to be a fool."
On November 5, 2007, Lee was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush at a White House Ceremony. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the United States and recognizes individuals who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
Harper Lee was portrayed by Catherine Keener in the film Capote (2005), by Sandra Bullock in the film Infamous (2006), and by Tracey Hoyt in the TV movie Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story (1998). In the adaptation of Capote's Other Voices, Other Rooms (1995), the character of Idabell Thompkins, who was inspired by Truman Capote's memories of Harper Lee as a child, was played by Aubrey Dollar.
| File:Harper Lee|
President George W. Bush gives Harper Lee (right) the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on November 5, 2007.
|Literary movement||Southern Gothic|
Harper Lee is an author. She was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She is most famous for writing To Kill a Mockingbird. She was friends with Truman Capote. The Civil Rights issues in Alabama influenced her writing more than World War II. Her book, To Kill A Mocking Bird was published in 1959. Harper Lee's interests apart from writing are watching politicians and cats, travelling and being alone.