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Lee, (Nelle) Harper

Summary Article: Lee, Harper 1926 - from The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English

Southern American writer; author of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). She was born in Monroeville, Alabama, to Amasa Coleman Lee, a lawyer, and his wife, Frances Finch Lee. As a young girl, Lee became friends with the boy living next door, Truman Capote. At the University of Alabama she wrote plays and parodies and edited the campus humour magazine. In 1950 she moved to New York, and worked in the reservations departments of two airlines while beginning her first novel. Against the background of her girlhood in Alabama, and the racial divisions and conflict she had seen – from the Scottsboro Incident of 1931, in which nine young black men, later proved innocent, were accused of raping two white women on a train, to Rosa Parks's arrest in Montgomery in 1955 for refusing to move to the back of a city bus – Lee created To Kill a Mockingbird.

Her novel is widely read, and assigned in schools, nearly forty years after its publication. Its characters are familiar people to American readers: Atticus Finch, the white lawyer defending a black man charged with raping a poor white girl; Tom Robinson, the defendant fighting for his life; Boo Radley, the terrifying presence who haunts the novel but appears, only once, to save his young neighbours in the end; the children, Jem and Dill and the narrator, Jean Louise 'Scout' Finch, through whose eyes the story unfolds. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1961, and within two years To Kill a Mockingbird had sold over 4 million copies worldwide. Lee was a consultant on the well-known 1962 film, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.

Although she assisted Truman Capote with In Cold Blood, which he dedicated to her in 1965, Harper Lee has not, to date, published another novel. She lives, quietly, in Alabama.

-Anne Margaret Daniel: Princeton University

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