Harper Lee, Author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Dies at 89

Of General Concern | Seng Lim | February 20, 2016

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American novelist Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, has passed away at the age of 89.

Reports says that the legendary author died in her sleep on the morning of February 19, 2016, in her hometown Monroeville, Alabama.

Lee was known for her highly successful novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which was her only published work for nearly half a century. Since its release in July 11, 1960, the best-selling novel immediately became an instant classic of American modern literature.

The novel resembles uniquely to Lee’s experiences as a 10 year old.

The story tells about a 6 year old girl named Jean Louise Finch who exploits her observations about her family. She specifically focuses on observations regarding Atticus Finch, who is her father and the heroic lawyer of the plot, her friend and neighbor who in real life is actually Truman Capote, and the events surrounding a black man who was accused of murder on trial in 1936. Although it is not autobiographical, the events and plots in the novel resemble Lee’s experiences. Lee believed that “a writer should write about what he knows and write truthfully.

The novel depicted the importance of race and class depictions and questioned the morality of such ideas, as well as serious court cases that deal with rape and racial inequality. The novel was also in the center of a controversy as it was removed from classroom readings for its illustration of racial injustice. Although it mostly affected the East coast — such as Richmond, Virginia, and Canadian provinces — the novel became a serious factor that aided the civil rights movement at the time, serving as an object to resolve a peaceful matter from the tensions of racial segregation.

“A writer should write about what he knows and write truthfully.” — Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s only novel for the past half century until last year she released a second controversial novel, Go Set a Watchman, which serves as a sequel to Mockingbird but was originally an earlier draft of it.

To Kill a Mockingbird was later adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1962 directed by Robert Mulligan. The film won three Academy awards, including best actor and best adapted screenplay. The film is also honored by the American Film Institute (AFI), listing #34 in “100 years…100 movies,” Atticus Finch as #1 hero in “heroes and villains,” #2 in “100 cheers,” and #1 in “top ten courtroom drama.” In 1990, the novel became an annual theater performance in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

Lee received significant prizes and awards such as the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961, her appointment in the National Council in the Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush, and the National Medal of Arts by Barack Obama.

In most presented cases, Lee refuses to appear in public interviews and appearances in her early years, but rather attend luncheons for students who wrote essays about her work, which were held annually in the University of Alabama.

Lee has also been portrayed in fictional films such as Catherine Keener in Capote (2005) and Sandra Bullock in Infamous (2006). A 2010 documentary film Hey Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird illustrates the background of the book and the impact and influences on readers and writers.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, a rock band named Atticus was inspired by the novel, as well as a Temecula, California, band called Finch.

The novel was also a cultural reference, influencing episode titles like “To Kill a Ladybird” in King of the Hill, and “To Kill a Talking Bird” in Frasier.

It is a sad time for the literature world as readers mourn and show their respect after the passing of Harper Lee.

Harper Lee
“All I want to be is the Jane Austen of south Alabama.” — Harper Lee