Writer. Born Nelle Harper Lee on April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, Alabama. Lee Harper is best known for writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)—her one and only novel. The youngest of four children, she grew up as a tomboy in a small town. Her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature, and also owned part of the local newspaper. One of her closest childhood friends was another writer-to-be, Truman Capote. Tougher than many of the boys, Lee often stepped up to serve as Truman’s protector. Truman, who shared few interests with boys his age, was picked on for being a sissy and for the fancy clothes he wore. In high school, Lee developed an interest in English literature. After graduating in 1944, she went to the all-female Huntingdon College in Montgomery. Lee stood apart from the other students—she could have cared less about fashion, makeup, or dating. Instead, she focused on her studies and on her writing. Lee was a member of the literary honor society and the glee club. Transferring to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Lee was known for being a loner and an individualist. She did make a greater attempt at a social life there, joining a sorority for a while. Pursuing her interest in writing, Lee contributed to the school’s newspaper and its humor magazine, the Rammer Jammer. She eventually became the editor of the Rammer Jammer. In her junior year, Lee was accepted into the university’s law school, which allowed students to work on law degrees while still undergraduates. The demands of her law studies forced her to leave her post as editor of the Rammer Jammer. After her first year in the law program, Lee began expressing to her family that writing—not the law—was her true calling. She went to Oxford University in England that summer as an exchange student. Returning to her law studies that fall, Lee dropped out after the first semester. She soon moved to New York City to follow her dreams to become a writer. While in the city, Lee was reunited with old friend Truman Capote, one of the literary rising stars of the time. She also befriended Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown and his wife Joy. In 1956, the Browns gave Lee an impressive Christmas present—to support her for a year so that she could write full time. She quit her job and devoted herself to her craft. The Browns also helped her find an agent, Maurice Crain. He, in turn, was able to get the publishing firm interested in her first novel, which was first titled Go Set a Watchman, then Atticus, and later To Kill a Mockingbird. Working with editor Tay Hohoff, Lee finished the manuscript in 1959.
Novels Written By her:
- To Kill a Mockingbird. (1960) New York: J. B. Lippincott.
- “Love—In Other Words”. (April 15, 1961) Vogue, pp.64–65
- “Christmas to Me”. (December 1961) McCall’s
- “When Children Discover America”. (August 1965) McCall’s
- “Romance and High Adventure” (1983), a paper presented in Eufaula, Alabama and collected in 1985 in the anthology Clearings in the Thicket.
- Open letter to Oprah Winfrey (July 2006), O: The Oprah Magazine
Awards she won:
Pulitzer Prize (1961)
Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1961)
Alabama Library Association Award (1961)
Bestsellers Paperback of the Year Award (1962)
Member, National Council on the Arts (1966)
Best Novel of the Century, Library Journal (1999)
Alabama Humanities Award (2002)
ATTY Award, Spector Gadon & Rosen Foundation (2005)
Los Angeles Public Library Literary Award (2005)
Honorary degree, University of Notre Dame (2006)
American Academy of Arts and Letters (2007)
Presidential Medal of Freedom (2007)
Why was To Kill A Mocking Bird a significant to her?
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.”