Family pays tribute to 'generous soul' as novelist Harper Lee dies aged 89
Published 20/02/2016 | 02:30
In her final interview, Harper Lee, who died yesterday aged 89, spoke of her shock at the success of 'To Kill A Mockingbird', her seminal novel.
"I never expected any sort of success with 'Mockingbird'," she said. "Public encouragement, I hoped for a little, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening."
That was in 1964. And, for the remainder of her life, Lee avoided the spotlight - preferring a quiet life at home with her long-time friends and family in Alabama.
It was there, in the small town of Monroeville - the setting for the fictional Maycomb of the novel - that she passed away in her sleep on Thursday, leaving a community in mourning.
"This is a sad day for our family. America and the world knew Harper Lee as one of the last century's most beloved authors," Hank Conner, Lee's nephew, said in a statement.
"We knew her as Nelle Harper Lee, a loving member of our family, a devoted friend to the many good people who touched her life, and a generous soul in our community and our state. We will miss her dearly."
'To Kill a Mockingbird' won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, and became a 1962 film starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.
"Harper Lee was ahead of her time, and her masterpiece 'To Kill A Mockingbird' prodded America to catch up with her," said George W Bush, who presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
'Mockingbird', for which she was given an advance of $1,000 plus 15pc of royalties, spent 98 weeks on 'The New York Times' bestseller list and earned her a profile in 'Life' magazine. To the end of her life she was receiving €2.8m a year in royalties.
It was her only published work for 55 years - until last year, when 'Go Set A Watchman' was released to immense hype. It sold more than 1.1 million copies in one week. Reporters flocked once again to Monroeville, hoping to catch a glimpse of the town's most celebrated resident, who spent her later years in a nursing home.
Some of her famously protective inner circle of friends expressed concern that she was being forced to release the book against her wishes, but in a statement released by HarperCollins she said she was "happy as hell" to see it published.
The daughter of a lawyer, she studied law in Alabama then moved to New York aged 23 and worked as an airline reservation agent before taking a year off to write. She went on to become friends with Truman Capote.
Her death has raised speculation that more work could be published. Wayne Flynt, a professor at Auburn University who knew Lee for more than 30 years, said at the time of the publication of 'Go Set A Watchman' that there was at least one other story yet to be printed - a crime story called 'The Reverend'.
Tonja Carter, Lee's lawyer, said in July she had found pages of typed text and other documents in a safe-deposit box belonging to Lee that would now be examined by experts.
"Was it an earlier draft of 'Watchman' or of 'Mockingbird', or even... a third book bridging the two? I don't know," she said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)