Nelle Harper Lee, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, has died at the age of 89. She passed peacefully in her sleep at The Meadows, an assisted living facility in Monroeville, AL, where she lived. Her death was confirmed Friday by the local City Hall.
Lee will be remembered for her groundbreaking freshman novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Published in 1960, the novel introduced us to six-year-old Scout and her father Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. The book turned Lee into an overnight literary celebrity, a title Lee never fully understood. In fact, she actively eschewed the public spotlight. She preferred a quiet life.
"I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird," Lee 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."
A feature film adaptation of the novel, with Mary Badham as Scout and Gregory Peck as Atticus, opened on Christmas Day 1962 and quickly became an instant classic. Peck took home an Oscar for his role, while Badham was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
But for more than half a century Lee failed to publish a second novel, which earned her a reputation as a recluse. It's not so much that she didn't enjoy the company of other people. Her close friendship and working relationship with author Truman Capote has been well-documented on the Internet. It's just she preferred to let her work speak for itself.
During one such public event in her honor, when asked to give a speech, she replied, "Well, it's better to be silent than be a fool."
Then, in July 2015, Lee published Go Set a Watchman, a pseudo-sequel to Mockingbird. Its controversial publication -- it's Lee's patchy first draft of what would eventually become To Kill A Mockingbird -- and racial plot twists undoubtedly made it one of the biggest literary events of the last decade.