Nelle Harper Lee (1926-) is best known for her only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which was also made into a movie starring Gregory Peck. She wrote only one novel, and has maintained a secluded life, refusing to give interviews and never speaking before a gathering of people.
Lee, a relative of Civil War general Robert E. Lee, was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. Many of the people in Lee's early life were represented later in her novel. Dill, the mischevious youngster, is based on her childhood friend and author Truman Capote. Atticus Finch, the father of the main character Scout, is based on Lee's father, Amasa Coleman Lee, and the name Finch is the maiden name of her mother, Frances Finch Lee. Her father was a state senator and lawyer.
Lee went to Huntingdon College from 1944-5, and the University of Alabama 1945-9 studying law. After this, she spent a year at Oxford University as an exchange student. She dropped out of school to become a writer six months shy of obtaining her law degree. She moved to New York in order to advance her new career. She became a flight attendant in the 1950's, but eventually quit this so she could focus more on writing. She submitted her first manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird in 1957. After three years of editing, it was accepted and published. /
To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of young Scout Finch and the events surrounding her in 1930's Alabama. To make a long story short, a black man named Tom Robinson is accused of raping a young white girl named Mayella Ewell. Atticus defends him, and embarrasses the entire Ewell family for their lies, especially Mayella's father Bob. Bob attacks Scout, and Scout is saved by Boo Radley, a mysterious neighbor who the children in the novel taunt very often. The title of the book comes from the following passage in the book:
"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
Lee's novel was a great success. She never did write another novel, however. She has spent her time divided between New York and Monroeville, dodging interviews and not speaking to the public. She has received many awards, but never delivered a speech. She may have based Scout Finch upon herself as a young girl, but in old age, Lee apparently just wants to be left alone like Boo Radley.
Editor's note: Harper Lee passed away in Monroeville, Alabama, on February 19, 2016, at the age of 89.