Lee, Harper

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Lee, Harper

Harper Lee (Nelle Harper Lee), 1926–2016, American novelist, b. Monroeville, Ala. A member of an old Southern family and related to Robert E. Lee, she was a lifelong friend of Truman Capote. Lee attended Huntington College (1944–45) and the Univ. of Alabama (1945–49) but left for New York City to pursue a writer's life. After writing several essays and short stories, she wrote the novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), which was a best seller, won the Pulitzer Prize (1961), was made into a popular film (1962), and became one of the most widely read and taught works of American fiction–and one of the most beloved. Mockingbird, which was long thought to be Lee's only novel, is the story of small-town Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch's noble but unsuccessful legal defense of an African-American man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Set in the 1930s, it also depicts the coming-of-age of Finch's young daughter, Scout, the book's semiautobiographical narrator, and of her brother Jem, and portrays the triumph of justice and tolerance. Lee's first novel, Go Set a Watchman, written in the mid-1950s but not published until 2015, was found (2011) in a safe deposit box in Lee's hometown. It was rejected in 1957 by Lee's editor who reportedly aided Lee in transforming it into Mockingbird. It is set two decades later, when Jean Louise Finch (the adult Scout) returns from New York to visit her elderly father, whose racism horrifies his disillusioned daughter. Most critical opinion of the book was unfavorable. A private, reclusive person, Lee lived quietly in Monroeville and New York from the mid-1960s until her death.

See biography by C. J. Shields (2006); studies by J. Milton (1984), C. D. Johnson (1994), T. O'Neill (2000), C. Bernard (2003), B. Giddens-White (2006), L. Ellsworth (2007), A. H. Petry, ed. (2007), and C. Mancini (2008).

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