Harper Lee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the American classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, has died at age 89.
The mayor’s office in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville,Alabama, announced the news Friday. Lee’s publisher, HarperCollins, also confirms the news. Lee had been residing in an assisted living facility in Monroeville. No cause of death was given. Lee suffered a stroke in 2007 but recovered.
Lee won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for To Kill a Mockingbird, her first novel. Narrated by a young girl named Scout, it told the story of a particular summer in a small Alabama town during the Great Depression, her noble attorney father, Atticus Finch, and a racially-charged rape trial. To Kill a Mockingbird was made into an Academy Award-winning 1962 film starring Gregory Peck. A stage version is scheduled to premiere during the 2017-2018 Broadway season. The novel is estimated to have some 30 million copies in print.
One of the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird – that of Scout’s childhood friend, Dill Harris – was based in part on Lee’s childhood friend, fellow novelist Truman Capote. The two remained friends throughout most of their lives, and though Lee apparently never wrote another book after To Kill a Mockingbird, she assisted Capote with his writing, including his 1966 best-seller, In Cold Blood.
To Kill a Mockingbird remained Lee’s only published novel until July 2015, when Go Set a Watchman was released. Though presented as a sequel set some 20 years later, the book was actually written before To Kill a Mockingbird.
“In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman,” Lee said in a statement announcing the novel’s publication. “It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became To Kill a Mockingbird) from the point of view of the young Scout.”
Lee continued, “I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn’t realized it [the first book] had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”
A few months prior to Go Set a Watchman’s publication, The Alabama Securities Commission, which handles complaints of elder abuse, concluded a probe into whether financial fraud had been committed in the deal to publish the book. There had been speculation that Lee may not have been capable of consenting to the publication.
“We have no reason to believe that she’s not aware of what’s going on based on the questions that were asked and answered during our meeting with her,” investigators said at the time. “We have closed the probe from our end.”
In 2007, President George W. Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to Harper Lee in a White House ceremony, marking a rare public appearance for the author. In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded Lee the National Medal of Arts for “outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts.”
Funeral and memorial arrangements have not been disclosed.