Harper Lee, a Great American Author, Passes Away at 89.

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Julia Incorvaia, Staff reporter

“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, Harper Lee’s nephew, said.
Harper Lee, whose first novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” about racial injustice in a small Alabama town, sold more than 40 million copies and became one of the most beloved and most taught works of fiction ever written by an American, died on Friday in Monroeville, Ala., where she lived. She was 89 and died in her sleep at the Meadows, an assisted living facility.
The instant success of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the next year, turned Ms. Lee into a literary celebrity, a role which overwhelmed her and she never learned to accept.
The enormous popularity of the film version of the novel, released in 1962 with Gregory Peck in the starring role of Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, only added to Ms. Lee’s fame and the literary world greatly anticipated her next novel.
More than a half-century after its publication, the novel continues to be studied by high school and college students. It has sold more than 30 million copies—still selling nearly a million copies per year by the 50th anniversary of its publication in 2010, according to Publishers Weekly–and has been translated into more than 40 languages. In 1988, the National Council of Teachers of English reported that it was being taught in 74 percent of the nation’s secondary schools. A decade later, Library Journal declared it the best novel of the 20th century.
Lee was born April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, the youngest of four children of lawyer Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee. She grew up in Alabama and after graduating from the University of Alabama she moved to New York in 1949, where she worked as an airlines reservations clerk while pursuing a writing career. On July 11, 1960, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published by Lippincott with critical and commercial success. The author won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the following year.
Harper Lee suffered a stroke in 2007, but recovered. She resumed her life in the hometown where she spent many of her 89 years. A guardedly private individual, Lee was respected and protected by residents of the town that displays Mockingbird-themed murals and each year stages theatrical productions of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Lee made headlines last year, on the news that a companion to her beloved novel would be coming out some 55 years after “To Kill a Mockingbird” was first published in 1960. When that book, “Go Set a Watchman,” was published last summer, it set off debates about the author’s health and how involved she had been in the project.
President and Mrs. Obama released a statement Friday in memory of Lee. Part of the statement said:
“When Harper Lee sat down to write “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she wasn’t seeking awards or fame. She was a country girl who just wanted to tell an honest story about life as she saw it.” But what that one story did, more powerfully than one hundred speeches possibly could, was change the way we saw each other, and the way we saw ourselves. Through the uncorrupted eyes of a child, she showed us the beautiful complexity of our common humanity, and the importance of striving for justice in our own lives, our communities, and our country.
“Ms. Lee changed America for the better. And there is no higher tribute we can offer her than to keep telling this timeless American story — to our students, to our neighbors, and to our children — and to constantly try, in our own lives, to finally see each other,” President Obama said.