To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee dies, age 89

NEW YORK • Harper Lee, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961 for her book,To Kill A Mockingbird, has died at the age of 89.

Her death was confirmed by Ms Mary Jackson, the city clerk in Monroeville, Alabama, where Lee lived. Ms Jackson could not say where or when Lee died.

Lee’s book about racial injustice in a small Alabama town, sold more than 10 million copies and became one of the most beloved works of fiction ever written by an American.

The instant success of To Kill A Mockingbird, published in 1960, turned Lee into a literary celebrity – a role she found oppressive and never learnt to accept.

The enormous success 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 Lee’s fame, and fanned expectations for her next novel.

For more than half a century, that second novel failed to appear. Then, last year, long after the reading public had given up on seeing anything more from Lee, a sequel appeared under mysterious circumstances.

“I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird,” the author told a radio interviewer in 1964. “I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers, but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it well enough to give me encouragement.”

Nelle Harper Lee was born in the poky little town of Monroeville in southern Alabama, the youngest of four children. “Nelle” was her maternal grandmother’s first name spelt backwards, and Lee dropped it when To Kill A Mockingbird was published, out of fear that readers would pronounce it Nellie, which she hated.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee dies, age 89'. Print Edition | Subscribe