Nelle Harper Lee, the youngest daughter of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama on 28th April 1926. She had two sisters and one brother and although her brother died with a cerebral hemorrhage in 1951 both her sisters are still living. Her father was a bookkeeper until 1915 when he passed the Bar and began practicing law. He had a distinguished career on the Alabama State Legislature until 1938 when he became editor of the Monroe Journal until 1947. Frances Finch was from a Virginian family who settled in Alabama and founded the town of Finchburg.
It is clear that the character of Scout is somewhat autobiographical and
readers gain some understanding of Lee’s childhood within the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.
In 1944 at the age of eighteen, Harper Lee enrolled in Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama where she studied law until 1949. She finished her education at the University of Alabama and then transferred to Oxford University, England as an exchange student, and then she decided to go to New York to be a writer.
Whilst pursuing her career as a writer, she worked briefly as a reservations
clerk for Eastern Airlines and in 1957 she submitted a manuscript, which was a series of strung-together short stories giving the basic tale of To Kill a Mockingbird.
This was returned to her in order for it to be made into one novel, which was published in 1960.
It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was made into a major motion picture
starring Gregory Peck in 1962. Lee was so impressed with Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch that she game him his pocket watch at the end of filming of the movie.
During the 60’s she had several articles published including ‘Love in Other
Words’ in Vogue in 1961. In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson appointed Lee to the National Council of Arts.
She has received several Honorary Doctorates including one from the
University of Alabama and from Springhill College, Mobile, Alabama.
In 1998 the Executive Committee of the Alabama Writers’ Forum unveiled the
Harper Lee Award for a distinguished Alabama writer. This award recognizes an accomplished writer who was born in the state or lived in Alabama during his or her formative years.
Never married, Lee continues to divide her time between New York and
Monroeville where she lives with her sister Alice.
She remains a very private person, having only granted a handful of
interviews since the publication of her book To Kill a Mockingbird.
Many wonder why a writer of such ability would only write one
novel. Her cousin Richard Williams suggested that when you have a hit like that, you couldn’t go anywhere but down.