“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
Nelle Harper Lee, who won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for To Kill a Mockingbird, has died aged 89.
The mayor’s office of Monroeville, Alabama, has confirmed her death. Publisher Penguin Random House also posted a message on Twitter saying ‘Rest in peace, Harper Lee.’
The author was born April 28th, 1926, in Monroeville, Alabama, the youngest of four children. She suffered a stroke in 2007.
Lee was 34 when “Mockingbird” was published. The universally beloved book tells the story of young Scout Finch and her heroic father Atticus, the brave lawyer who defends an innocent black man in a rape trial and defies the judgements of a society.
For decades it was thought Lee would never follow up “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the July 2015 publication of its sequel “Go Set a Watchman” was a surprise literary event – as well as a shock for devotees of “Mockingbird”. The older Atticus of “Watchman” has comparatively horrific attitudes to racial equality, a fact that confounds the adult Scout.
Lee reportedly had written “Go Set a Watchman” first but, at the suggestion of a wise editor, set it aside to tell a tale of race in the South from the child’s point of view in the 1930s.
Lee’s father was a former newspaper editor. She studied law at the University of Alabama but six months before finishing studies she went to New York to pursue a literary career.
For many years, Lee, a shy woman with an engaging Southern drawl, lived quietly and privately, always turning down interview requests. She alternated between living in a New York apartment and Monroeville, where she shared a home with her older sister, lawyer Alice Lee.
After suffering a stroke and enduring failing vision and hearing, she spent her final years in an assisted-living facility in Monroeville.
Lee’s state would become an issue when plans were announced in 2015 to publish “Go Set a Watchman”, with some friends saying that a lawyer had manipulated Lee to approve publication. An investigation by Alabama state officials found there was no coercion in getting Lee’s permission to publish.
Lee’s literary output had been a matter of speculation for decades before ‘Go Set a Watchman.’ She acknowledged she could not top the Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Mockingbird’ but friends said she had worked for years on at least two other books before abandoning them.
Lee had said she did not publish again because she did want to endure the pressure and publicity of another book and because she had said all that she wanted to say.
Many readers, including myself, paid tribute to Lee on social media today:
Of course, as with David Bowie and other such recently deceased wordsmiths, there are no tributes to be made in writing that Harper Lee herself would not have more eloquently expressed. Her friend and confidante, Truman Capote, would have had a fine word to say on this solemn day. Nonetheless, “Mockingbird” (if not its sequel) will outlive Lee. Such a timeless and impactful work will duly outlive us all.
“He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”