American Author Harper Lee, Whose Novel Changed Lives, Dies at 89

Influential author Nelle Harper Lee, whose novel To Kill A Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, has died at the age of 89.

A relative said Lee died in her sleep at the Meadows, an assisted living facility in Monroeville, Alabama—the same town in which she was born in 1926.

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Tweets about Harper Lee

“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,” Hank Conner, Lee’s nephew and a spokesman for the family, said in a statement Friday morning. “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.”

To Kill A Mockingbird “needs no introduction — because it is the introduction, for most American children, to civil rights, literature, and the justice system,” Boris Kachka wrote for Vulture in 2014. The book accumulated countless accolades over the years; in 2006, the Guardian noted, “British librarians

The novel’s huge success combined with a popular 1962 film adaptation—which Lee herself considered a triumph—turned the characters of Scout and Atticus Finch, Boo Radley, and Calpurnia into household names.

Lee, on the other hand, was more inscrutable. As the LA Times writes, “fame and its burdens overwhelmed Harper Lee, who wrote one masterpiece, then shut the door on an adoring public. She had hoped for modest approval of her debut work ‘but I got rather a whole lot,’ she once said, ‘and in some ways this was just about as frightening’.”


Still, she wasn’t isolated. “Although reporters imagined a Southern Miss Havisham,” the New York Times wrote on Friday, “Ms. Lee lived a quiet but relatively normal life in Monroeville, where friends and neighbors closed ranks around her to fend off unwelcome attention by tourists and reporters. She lived with [her sister] Alice, who practiced law in her 90s and died in 2014 at 103.”

Her novel Go Set a Watchman, which revisits a now 26-year-old Scout, who encounters intolerance in her small Alabama hometown while visiting from New York, was published, amid controversy, last year to mixed reviews.

After the news broke on Friday, fellow writers, anti-censorship advocates, and many others shared remembrances on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Michael Morrison, U.S. president of Lee’s publisher HarperCollins, said in 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. She lived her life the way she wanted—in private—surrounded by books and the people who loved her.”

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