Lee, Harper

Lee, Harper

(Nelle Harper Lee), 1926–2016, American novelist, b. Monroeville, Ala. A member of an old Southern family and related to Robert E. LeeLee, Robert Edward,
1807–70, general in chief of the Confederate armies in the American Civil War, b. Jan. 19, 1807, at Stratford, Westmoreland co., Va.; son of Henry ("Light-Horse Harry") Lee.
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, she was a lifelong friend of Truman CapoteCapote, Truman
, 1924–84, American author, b. New Orleans as Truman Streckfus Persons. During his lifetime, the witty, diminutive writer was a well-known public personage, hobnobbing with the rich and famous and frequently appearing in the popular media, before he lapsed
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. Lee attended Huntington College (1944–45) and the Univ. of Alabama (1945–49) but left for New York City to pursue a writer's life. After writing several essays and short stories, she wrote the novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), which was a best seller, won the Pulitzer Prize (1961), was made into a popular film (1962), and later into a play (1991, 2018). The novel became one of the most widely read and taught works of American fiction–and one of the most beloved. Mockingbird, long thought Lee's only novel, is the story of small-town Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch's noble but unsuccessful defense of an African-American man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Set in the 1930s, it also depicts the coming-of-age of Finch's young daughter, Scout, the book's semiautobiographical narrator, and of her brother Jem, and portrays the triumph of justice and tolerance. Lee's first novel, Go Set a Watchman, written in the mid-1950s but not published until 2015, was rejected in 1957 by Lee's editor, who reportedly aided Lee in transforming it into Mockingbird. It is set two decades later, when Jean Louise Finch (the adult Scout) returns from New York to visit her elderly father, whose racism horrifies his disillusioned daughter. Most critical opinion of the book was unfavorable. A private, reclusive person, Lee lived quietly in Monroeville and New York from the mid-1960s until her death.


See biography by C. J. Shields (2006); studies by J. Milton (1984), C. D. Johnson (1994), T. O'Neill (2000), C. Bernard (2003), B. Giddens-White (2006), L. Ellsworth (2007), A. H. Petry, ed. (2007), and C. Mancini (2008).

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Lee, (Nelle) Harper

(1926–  ) writer; born in Monroeville, Ala. She attended Huntington College (1944–45), studied law at the University of Alabama (1945–49), and attended Oxford University for one year. She was an airline reservation clerk in New York City during the 1950s before returning to Monroeville. Her first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), received critical acclaim and was made into a highly successful movie in 1962.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.