Remembering Harper Lee

Posted February 19, 2016 by Amanda | No Comment

Today we mourn the death of brilliant author Harper Lee. She passed away at the age of 89 in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. The beloved author of To Kill a Mockingbird was revered by many who grew up reading her classic novel.

In honor of her passing, we take a look back at her life.

1. Nelle Harper Lee was the youngest of four children born to Frances Cunningham (Finch) and Amasa Coleman Lee. Her first name was her maternal grandmother’s name, Ellen, spelled backwards. She would use Harper Lee as her pen name, but used her first name in life.

Remembering Harper Lee

Image: The Lee family in the 1930 U.S. census, MyHeritage SuperSearch (click to see full record)

2. She was born and raised in Monroeville, Alabama. The town would serve as the template for To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Depression-era town of Maycomb, Alabama. In 1997, the town was designated the “Literary Capital of Alabama.”

Remembering Harper Lee

Image: Library of Congress

3. In 1960, Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was both a commercial and critical success and earned her the Pulitzer Prize. Today, it remains one of the most widely read books in America.

Remembering Harper Lee

Image: Harper Lee and Mary Badham, Library of Congress

4. Much of To Kill a Mockingbird‘s plot and characters stemmed from her own experiences growing up in her small southern town. She based the novel’s young narrator, Scout, on herself and modeled the character’s father, Atticus Finch, after he own father. Her father was also a lawyer and once defended two black men accused of murder.

Remembering Harper Lee

Image: Truman Capote, Library of Congress

5. Lee grew up alongside fellow writer Truman Capote. The pair were best friends and neighbors in the small town. She drew on their childhood friendship when creating the characters of Scout and Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird. As children, Lee and Capote bonded over their love of reading and would often sit in during trials at the courthouse together. However, as adults, the once-close friends became increasingly distant as their professional careers flourished.

Remembering Harper Lee

Image: In Cold Blood, Library of Congress

6. Lee accompanied Capote to Kansas as he was conducting research for what would become his best-selling book, In Cold Blood. She proved Capote with much assistance in the research and even compiled over a hundred pages of notes for her friend. After six yeas of research, the book was finally published in 1966.


Image: Gregory Peck, Wikimedia Commons

7. The film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird is often considered one of the greatest films ever made. The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Gregory Peck won the Oscar for Best Actor for his memorable portrayal of Atticus Finch. On that Oscar night, Peck wore the pocket watch Lee had given to him, which had once belonged to her father. The pair remained close friends after the film. His grandson, Harper Peck Voll, was named after her.

Remembering Harper Lee

Image: NARA

8. Throughout her life, Lee was recognized many times for her talent. In 2007, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

9. In 2015, Lee published Go Set a Watchman, which was promoted as a sequel to her iconic novel. The manuscript was originally written as a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird and takes place 20 years after the events of the first novel. The news of Watchman‘s publication was met with some controversy, especially because Lee had vowed to never write another book. Many skeptics questioned the timing of its publication so close after her sister’s death.

10. Lee lived most of her post-Mockingbird life in private. For the last years of her life, she resided in an assisted living facility in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. She passed in her sleep on February 19, 2016 at the age of 89.

Rest in peace, Harper Lee (1926-2016).

Post written by Amanda

Amanda is the Marketing Communications Manager at Geni. If you need any assistance, she will be happy to help!

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