Remembering Harper Lee
Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Harper Lee dies at 89.
Lee will forever be honored for her essential novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Students from middle grades to high school to college picked up this book as a reading requirement, before falling into Lee’s story. The novel was published in 1960 and received quick acclaim. Lee secured a Pulitzer Prize and her book has since sold over 40 million copies worldwide. The book-inspired movie earned three Academy Awards.
The story introduces 6-year-old Scout and her brave father Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer defending a Black man who is falsely accused of raping a young white woman. Despite the focus on racial injustice, traditional class and gender roles, Lee infused her novel with a great sense of warmth mixed with humor.
Lee became a literary hero, but without the body of work her peers produced. Lee preferred to lived a quiet and private life. She never married or had children, and she stayed out of the public light through a careful selection of company and interviews.
After more than a half a century, 55 years, a new novel by Lee suddenly surfaced. Though published in 2015, Go Set a Watchman was written before Mockingbird. In this book, Jean Louise Finch, previously known as Scout, returns home to visit her aging father. At 26 years-of-age, the Civil Rights movement figures large in her life and political riots occur throughout the South. Jean’s visit home is bittersweet as she learns upsetting truths about her family, the town and people closest to her.
Go Set a Watchman is tremendously successful by industry standards, though not without controversy. People inquired about Lee’s health. She had a stroke a few years earlier. Both Lee’s sight and hearing noticeably declined, leading some to question if Lee understood the documents she had signed and whether or not she wanted to release the book.
By commanding readers’ attention to share a story of social justice, Lee taught many people right from wrong and how to spot the humanity in every individual. She stood out in more ways than one. To Kill a Mockingbird is a brave novel and bravely written. Lee had a story to tell and she told it. Lee could have churned out novels to line her pockets, but she allowed her masterpiece to shine brilliantly as a stand-alone. For that, thank you Harper Lee. Your gift left a legacy that has educated millions.