Friday 6 December 2019

Family pays tribute to 'generous soul' as novelist Harper Lee dies aged 89

Harriet Alexander

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."

Then US President George W Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harper Lee in 2007. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Then US President George W Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harper Lee in 2007. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Harper Lee at her home in Monroeville, Alabama. Photo: Getty
To Kill a Mocking Bird
Go set a Watchman

'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)

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top