A Tribute to Nelle ‘Harper Lee’

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harper-lee.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxIf you’ve attended a United States’ high school in the past 50 years, chances are you were given a copy of Harper’s Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird. For many of us, this was the first time we began to understand the concepts of racism, injustice, courage, and putting yourself in another’s position. This morning many figures in Mooreville Alabama confirmed that Harper Lee has passed away at the age of 89 in an assisted living facility.

Born April 28, 1926, Nelle (the reverse of her maternal grandmother’s name) Harper Lee was the youngest of 4 children. She stayed close to home for most of her adult life, attending elementary school just down the street and venturing out in her adult life to the University of Alabama, where she studied Law. Lee did, however, move to New York in 1949 to work on her writing career. She made the ends meet by working as a reservation clerk for an airline. She submitted a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird to J.B. Lippincott & Co, and as many writer has been asked before, she was given instructions to rewrite it. In 1960, Lippincott published her novel and in 1961 she won the Pulitzer Prize for it. She dropped the Nelle from her name, because she feared people would pronounce it “Nellie” and she hated that.

Harper Lee was a good friend to Truman Capote, and accompanied him when he interviewed many people for his book In Cold Blood. According to the New York Times, she edited the manuscript heavily and offered notes. In the end, she was left as a thank you on the dedication page and the two began to drift apart as To Kill a Mockingbird reached even higher acclaim.

She was private; very private. Lee also deeply respected those who lived in her local town, especially those she’d based characters off of for To Kill a To_Kill_a_MockingbirdMockingbird. The movie adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird and her Pulitzer Prize turned her into a literary celebrity, and it was never a role she wanted to accept.According to a recent article on AL.com , she was often seen going to pick up food for her family from the same restaurant for many years, until her health turned poor.  Recently, the sequel for To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman, was released under suspicious circumstances. Lee had a stroke in 2007, suffered complications, recovered for the most part and carried on. However, it was no secret in the last few years of her life that her health was not stellar. Go Set a Watchman was supposedly lost in 1957, but in 2015 Harper Collins announced publication and had the book released to the public.  In 2013, Lee had sued her literary agent, Samuel Pinkus, for duping her into reverting rights to Harper Collins for Go Set a Watchman shortly after her stroke. The book became a best seller, but friends of Harper Lee and fans who deeply loved her found themselves either refusing to read the book, or hiding their copy. 

It is my sincerest hope that somewhere in heaven, Harper Lee and Truman Capote have reunited and are sharing a glass of iced tea on a front porch, discussing novels that only heaven will read.

Thank you Harper Lee for rearranging the thinking of much of the last few generations.

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