Biography: Harper Lee
Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, in
Monroeville, Alabama. Her father, Amasa
Coleman Lee, was a lawyer, newspaper editor, and
state senator during her formative years. Harper
Lee’s childhood in a small Southern town decades
before the triumph of the Civil Rights movement
provided all the material she needed for her
celebrated, and only, novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Though narrated by a child, Mockingbird was
story Lee could have written without experience in
the larger adult world. She studied at Huntingdon
College, the University of Alabama (where she
never finished a law degree), and at Oxford
University in England. In 1950, she moved to
New York City, where she worked as an airline
reservation clerk. Convinced she had a story to tell
about her own magical childhood, she moved to a
cold-water apartment and, in earnest, took up the
life of a struggling writer.
In 1957, her attempt to publish the novel failed.
On the advice of an editor, she decided to turn
what was a manuscript of short stories into a
longer, more coherent narrative about the
Depression-era South. She gained valuable
inspiration when, in 1959, she traveled to Kansas
with childhood friend Truman Capote (the
inspiration for Dill in Mockingbird).
helped Capote research In Cold Blood,
published to wide acclaim in 1966.
To Kill a Mockingbird, finally published in 1960,
was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. The
following year the book was adapted as a movie
with an Academy Award-winning screenplay by
Horton Foote. Virtually overnight Lee became a
literary sensation. A resolution was passed in her
honor by the Alabama legislature in 1961, and in
1966 she was named to the National Council of
the Arts by President Lyndon Johnson.
In the last 40 years, Lee has received numerous
honors, including several honorary university
degrees. Most recently she was awarded the Los
Angeles Public Library Literary Award in 2005.
Expectations notwithstanding, Lee has never
published another book. Her entire published
oeuvre consists of a brilliant novel and
miscellaneous articles, mostly from the 1960s.