Harper Lee is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the brilliantly written To Kill a Mocking Bird. The book instantly became a best seller internationally and was also adapted into an Academy Award winning movie in 1962. Although Harper’s contribution to literature has been limited to one novel only, she has achieved what many writers can only wish for even after authoring volumes.
Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. Lee’s father was a lawyer and member of the Alabama State Legislature. Her mother was mentally unwell and mostly stayed inside the house. Lee was the youngest child of her parents with 3 siblings. Most part of her childhood was spent in a small town being a tomboy with close friend Truman Capote who too became a famous writer. Unlike girls of her age, Lee was as tough as boys and always stood up for Truman when he was being picked on by other boys for being sissy and dressing up in fancy clothes. Their exemplary childhood companionship was to grow stronger into a lifelong friendship.
Lee’s interest in literature grew while she was in high school. She attended the Huntingdon College in Montgomery where she was an exceptional student focusing on studies and writing instead of makeup, clothes and dating like other girls. She was also a member of the glee club and the literary honorary society. Lee then enrolled in University of Alabama, where she studied Law from 1945 to 1949. Pursuing her interest in writing, Lee wrote for a humorous school magazine, Rammer Jammer and later became its editor. However, the pressure of her law studies forced her to leave the editor’s position. She also went to Oxford University as an exchange student for one year. Soon after returning from Oxford, Lee realized her career was in writing and not law. She dropped out of the university and moved to New York in 1950 where worked at an airline as a reservations officer. It is during her time in New York that she wrote and finished the manuscript of To Kill a Mocking Bird in 1959.
While in New York, Lee was also reunited with Truman Capote, her childhood friend who had also turned into a writer. Lee assisted Capote in writing an article about the murder of four members of a family for The New Yorker. Lee contributed immensely to Capote’s assignment. She gave him all her notes on the crime story, victims and the trial. The article later evolved in Capote’s masterpiece, In Cold Blood.
When To Kill a Mocking Bird was published in 1960, Lee instantaneously became a literary legend. In addition to a short version of the story being published in The Reader’s Digest, the book was chosen by the Literary Guild and also picked up by the Book of the Month Club. Many more awards followed and in 1961, the book won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.
Although Lee was reported to be working on a second novel, no other novel by Lee was ever seen in print again. On November 6, 2007, President George W. Bush presented to Lee the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her services to literature. She was also awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 2010. Refusing to appear for interviews or anything to do with her popular novel, Lee now lives a quiet life in Monroeville.