Harper Lee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird, has died at age 89.
Born Nelle Harper Lee on April 28, 1926, she grew up in Monroeville, Ala., where she was close friends with Truman Capote (whom she would later help with his work on In Cold Blood). Her father was a lawyer, like Atticus Finch, the hero of Mockingbird.
Lee published Mockingbird in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. The 1962 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck won three Academy Awards.
The book became a beloved classic and a mainstay on assigned reading lists, but Lee turned away from public life, and it seemed unlikely she would publish again. In 2007, she suffered a stroke that led to long-term health issues, which made it even more of a surprise in 2015 when her publisher, HarperCollins, announced it would publish a manuscript found in a safe deposit box that had served as an origin point for Mockingbird; that book, Go Set a Watchman, became an instant bestseller last summer, despite controversy as to whether Lee had been capable of consenting to its publication.
The new book catches up with the characters two decades later; Scout Finch is a young woman living in New York City (as Lee once did), home on a visit to her family. Atticus, once a champion for civil rights in the courtroom, now takes part in anti-integrationist meetings, to his daughter’s horror and disappointment. Many readers were disappointed by a depiction of Atticus as a racist, tainting the character’s image in the popular imagination as a pioneer for equality.
The news comes a week after a Broadway adaptation of Mockingbird was announced for the 2017-18 season; it will be produced by Scott Rudin and adapted by Aaron Sorkin. In an emailed statement on Friday, Sorkin wrote, “Like millions of others, I was saddened to learn this morning of the passing of Harper Lee, one of America’s most beloved authors. I’m honored to have the opportunity to adapt her seminal novel for the stage.”
HarperCollins confirmed Lee’s death on Friday morning after the report first broke on AL.com. In a statement, president and publisher of HarperCollins US General Books Group Michael Morrison called Lee “a brilliant writer” and “an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness.” Her agent, Andrew Nurnberg, said it had been a privilege to work with the novelist. When he saw her six weeks ago, “She was quoting Thomas More and setting me straight on Tudor history,” he said.