After many years out of the limelight, Harper Lee is making headlines again thanks to the controversial circumstances surrounding the release of her second novel, Go Set a Watchman. Some say the book, which she wrote before her 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird and features a grown-up version of Mockingbird’s protagonist Scout, is being released without the 88-year-old Lee’s full understanding and consent.
When LIFE profiled Lee in 1961, she was visiting her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., where she lives today in an assisted living facility. To Kill a Mockingbird had already sold half a million copies, been translated into 10 languages and caught the attention of Hollywood. The film version, starring Gregory Peck, would be released the following year.
Lee gave LIFE the Monroeville tour, showing photographer Donald Uhrbrock the courthouse on which she based the one in the book and the porch where she spent time with her father, Amasa Lee, who served as the inspiration for Atticus Finch. Her father was, in Lee’s words, “one of the few men I’ve known who has genuine humility.”
Lee also invited LIFE into her father’s law office, where she’d written Mockingbird and was now at work on a third novel. Though the details of that book didn’t make it into the magazine, a 2007 biography says it was to be called The Long Goodbye. Lee, whose distaste for publicity is well-documented, abandoned the book after writing only 100 pages.
Whether The Long Goodbye is destined for the same fate as Go Set a Watchman—surfacing after decades of collecting dust—remains to be seen.