Novelist Harper Lee, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with her first published novel, has died. The New York Times reports that Lee’s death was confirmed by the city clerk in Lee’s home town of Monroeville, Ala. Lee was 89.
Lee’s 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” is considered a classic of U.S. literature, and the 1962 film based on the book, starring Gregory Peck, received eight Academy Award nominations and won three Oscars — including Best Actor for Peck.
The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. Until last year, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was Lee’s only published book, and the author successfully remained out of the spotlight for decades. But an earlier draft of the book, titled “Go Set a Watchman,” was belatedly published as a novel in its own right on July 14, 2015.
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” which focuses on racial attitudes in a small town in Alabama, was an immediate success in the early 1960s and eventually sold more than 10 million copies. But Lee never accepted the role of literary celebrity, and never gave in to the intense demand for a follow-up novel.
The Times report quotes Lee saying in a 1964 interview: “I never expected any sort of success with ‘Mockingbird.’ I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers, but, at the same time I sort of hoped someone would like it well enough to give me encouragement.” But she wasn’t prepared for the encouragement she did receive, adding: “I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”
The Times report adds: “Ms. Lee gained a reputation as a literary Garbo, a recluse whose public appearances to accept an award or an honorary degree counted as important news simply because of their rarity. On such occasions she did not speak, other than to say a brief thank you.”