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To Kill a Mockingbird Author Harper Lee Dead at 89

To Kill a Mockingbird Author Harper Lee Dead at 89

harper lee
AP Photo

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.” 

Harper Lee, the author of one of the greatest novels of the 20th century--To Kill a Mockingbird--has died at age 89. Multiple sources in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama confirmed her passing to

Upon its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was an immediate success, tapping into the nerve of a nation increasingly divided by racism, and earning Lee the Pulitzer Prize. A 1962 film starring Gregory Peck in an Oscar-winning performance as protagonist Atticus Finch further cemented the book's and Lee's legacy.

Lee was also good friends with fellow Southern scribe Truman Capote, the basis of Mockingbird's Dill. Capote in turn drew inspiration for one of his characters in his debut novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, from Lee. She also helped Capote when he was researching In Cold Blood.

The intensely private author avoided the public eye in the fifty-plus years following the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. In 2007 she made a rare public appearance when she accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Then last year, Lee stunned the literary world with her second and final novel, Go Set a Watchman.

"In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman," Lee said about the book's origins. "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."

Go Set a Watchman was met with controversy and largely negative reviews for shattering the image of Atticus Finch as the paragon of virtue against racism and injustice the previous book had painted him as. Billed as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, the book was eventually accepted as a first draft of sorts.

Controversy aside, Go Set a Watchman will most likely be remembered as a footnote in Lee's life and career, as To Kill a Mockingbird has steadily loomed large over both. Apple CEO Tim Cook mourned Lee's loss with a quote from the book:

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