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Lee, Harper

Lee, Harper (Nelle Harper Lee), 1926–, American novelist, b. Monroeville, Ala. A member of an old Southern family and related to Robert E. Lee , she was a lifelong friend of Truman Capote . Lee attended Huntington College (1944–45) and the Univ. of Alabama (1945–49) but left for New York City to pursue a writer's life. After writing several essays and short stories, she wrote the novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), which was a best seller, won the Pulitzer Prize, was made (1962) into a popular film, and became one of the most widely read works of American fiction in the second half of the 20th cent. Mockingbird, which was long thought to be Lee's only novel, is the story of small-town Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch's noble but unsuccessful legal defense of an African-American man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Set in the 1930s, it also depicts the coming-of-age of Finch's young daughter, Scout, the book's semiautobiographical narrator, and of her brother Jem, and portrays the triumph of justice and tolerance. Lee's first novel, Go Set a Watchman, written in the mid-1950s but not published until 2015, was found (2011) in a safe deposit box in Lee's hometown. It was rejected in 1957 by Lee's editor who reportedly aided Lee in transforming it into Mockingbird. It is set two decades later, when Jean Louise (the adult Scout) returns from New York to visit her elderly father, whose racism horrifies his disillusioned daughter. Most critical opinion of the book was unfavorable. A private, reclusive person, Lee has lived quietly in Monroeville and New York since the mid-1960s.

See biography by C. J. Shields (2006) studies by J. Milton (1984), C. D. Johnson (1994), T. O'Neill (2000), C. Bernard (2003), B. Giddens-White (2006), L. Ellsworth (2007), A. H. Petry, ed. (2007), and C. Mancini (2008).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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