Nelle Harper Lee, author of the widely acclaimed To Kill A Mockingbird, and its controversial sequel, Go Set A Watchman, has died at the age of 89. Her passing was initially confirmed by Mike Kennedy, the Mayor of her hometown in Alabama, which became the inspiration for Mockingbird’s setting, the fictional Maycomb. Her family have also released a statement, stating the author unexpectedly passed in her sleep last night.

Lee was born and raised in Monroeville, AL before moving a stone’s throw away from home to pursue a law degree at the University of Alabama from 1945 to 1949. She did not end up graduating, instead abandoning her legal studies six months before completion in order to move to New York and begin her literary career.

“To Kill A Mockingbird was her first, and for over 50 years her only novel. Published in 1960, it quickly became an international bestseller, receiving a Pulitzer Prize the following year”

Working as an airline reservation clerk to pay the bills, Lee did not have to wait long for her name to become well known in literary circles. To Kill A Mockingbird was her first, and for over 50 years her only novel. Published in 1960, it quickly became an international bestseller, receiving a Pulitzer Prize the following year. Set in the mid-1930s but written in the late 1950s when racial tensions were at a high, it is no surprise that issues of racial injustice and class were key themes in Lee’s first novel. Despite decades of critical analysis and study in classrooms across the world, To Kill A Mockingbird retains a humour and warmth that makes it a beloved classic for many that only grows with every reading. As Lee said herself in a letter written to her agent: “Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble.”

“Harper Lee will remain in the memory of literature lovers for her first acclaimed novel, To Kill A Mockingbird”

Lee’s second novel, Go Set A Watchman, was published in 2015 amid great controversy. Notoriously private, the publication of Mockingbird’s sequel launched Lee back into the spotlight, after years of avoiding any publicity. Critical opinion was mixed on the new novel, some thrilled to have new material by Lee and others not as convinced. What is clear however, is that Harper Lee will remain in the memory of literature lovers for her first acclaimed novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.

As per her request Lee’s funeral will be private, but the world will certainly mourn the loss of a great woman, who touched the hearts of both those she knew personally, and those who read the wonderful words she wrote on the page. To end with one of my personal favourite quotes by Lee: “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” While we are saddened by the loss of Harper Lee, she will live on in the love of reading her novels continue to inspire.

Ashleigh John

Image credit: Jose Sa via Flickr

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