Harper Lee

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Date: 2003
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Biography
Length: 393 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1200L

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About this Person
Born: April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama, United States
Died: February 19, 2016 in Monroeville, Alabama, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Novelist
Other Names: Lee, Nelle Harper
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Although Harper Lee has long maintained that To Kill a Mockingbird is not autobiographical, critics have often remarked upon the striking similarities between the author's own childhood and that of her youthful heroine, Scout Finch. Nelle Harper Lee was born in 1926, the youngest of three children of Amasa Coleman Lee, a lawyer who practiced in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama. Like Scout, who could be bullied into submission with the remark that she was "gettin' more like a girl," Lee was "a rough 'n' tough tomboy," according to childhood friends. Summers in Monroeville were brightened by the visits of young Truman Capote, who stayed with the Lees' next-door neighbors and who later became a famous writer himself. The games young Nelle and her brother played with Capote were likely the inspiration for the adventures Scout and Jem had with Dill, their own "summer" friend.

After graduating from the public schools of Monroeville, Lee attended a small college in nearby Montgomery before attending the University of Alabama for four years. She left school six months short of earning a law degree, however, in order to pursue a writing career. In the early 1950s, the author worked as an airline reservations clerk in New York City, writing essays and short stories in her spare time. After her literary agent suggested that one of her stories might be expanded into a novel, Lee quit her airline job. With the financial support of some friends, she spent several years revising the manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird before submitting it to publishers. Several more months of revision followed the feedback of her editors, who found the original version more like a string of short stories than a cohesive novel. The final draft was finally completed in 1959 and published in 1960. The novel was a dramatic success, earning generally positive reviews and achieving best-seller status. Lee herself attained considerable celebrity as the novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961 and was made into an Oscar-winning film in 1962. Since then, aside from a few magazine pieces in the early 1960s, the reclusive author has published nothing, although she has been reported to have been working on a second novel. Despite the lack of a follow-up work, Lee's literary reputation remains secure and even has grown since the debut of her remarkable first novel.


  • Phoebe Adams, review in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 206, August 26, 1960, pp. 98-99.
  • Edwin Bruell, "Keen Scalpel on Racial Ills." The English Journal, Vol. 53, December, 1964, pp. 658-61.
  • R. A. Dave, "To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee's Tragic Vision," in Indian Studies in American Fiction, edited by M. K. Naik, S. K. Desai, Punekar S. Mokashi, and M. Jayalakshammanni. Karnatak University Press, 1974, pp. 311-23.
  • Fred Erisman, "The Romantic Regionalism of Harper Lee," in The Alabama Review, Vol. 26, No. 2, April, 1973, pp. 122-36.
  • Nick Aaron Ford, review in PHYLON, Vol. XXII, Second Quarter (June), 1961, p. 122.
  • William T. Going, "Store and Mockingbird: Two Pulitzer Novels about Alabama," in his Essays on Alabama Literature, The University of Alabama Press, 1975, pp. 9-31.
  • Granville Hicks, "Three at the Outset," in Saturday Review, Vol. XLIII, No. 30, July 23, 1960, pp. 15-16.
  • Claudia Durst Johnson, Understanding `To Kill a Mockingbird': A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historic Documents, Greenwood Press, 1994.
  • Harding LeMay, "Children Play: Adults Betray," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, July 10, 1960, p. 5.
  • Frank H. Lyell, "One-Taxi Town," in The New York Book Review, July 10, 1960, pp. 5, 18.
  • Edgar H. Schuster, "Discovering Theme and Structure in the Novel," in The English Journal, Vol. 52, 1963, pp. 506-11.
  • Richard Sullivan, "Engrossing First Novel of Rare Excellence," Chicago Sunday Tribune, July 17, 1960, p. 1.
  • Keith Waterhouse, review in New Statesman, October 15, 1960, p. 580.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird was adapted as a film by Horton Foote, starring Gregory Peck and Mary Badham, Universal, 1962; available from MCA/Universal Home Video.
  • It was also adapted as a full-length stage play by Christopher Sergel, and was published as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: A Full-length Play, Dramatic Publishing Co., 1970.


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Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ2111100035