On Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, Harper Lee passed away in her sleep in Monroeville, Alabama. She was 89. Lee was extremely active in her community in Alabama, and was extraordinarily wise beyond her years.
It is impossible to discuss Lee without mentioning To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that changed the literary landscape of the United States.
Published in 1961 and winner of the 1962 Pulitzer Prize, To Kill a Mockingbird follows the story of Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch and his two children, Scout and Jem, of Maycomb, Ala., which uncannily resembled Lee’s hometown of Monroeville. To Kill a Mockingbird was more than just a coming-of-age story, it was a novel that would inspire both on an individual and cultural level.
The generations of social justice lawyers, the dogs named Scout and the newborns named Atticus owe their legacies to Lee, the woman from Alabama who wanted to write so badly that in Christmas 1956, her friends gifted her an envelope of money with the caption: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.”
It was more than her words, however, that pulled together her public image. Her quiet humility in the face of epic literary fame is the trait that is most commonly referenced. In fact, that literary stardom essentially prevented her from writing another book until 2015 saw the release of Go Set a Watchman.
She confided in her sister Alice that the accolades collected by To Kill a Mockingbird were too overwhelming for her to consider penning another novel. However, Tony Parsons, author of Man and Boy told The Telegraph that, “Harper Lee said more than one book than most of us manage in a lifetime.” And he couldn’t be more right.
So next time you pick up your copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, remember to silently thank the wonderful Harper Lee for her contribution to the world. It is a beautiful literary accomplishment from which we are all still benefiting. Our thoughts are with the Lee family.