By Shuhrah Chowdhury
Harper Lee, the author of the American classic To Kill a Mockingbird, died at the age of 89 on the morning of Friday, February 20.
Harper Lee was born as Nelle Harper Lee on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She was the youngest of the four children of Amasa Coleman Lee, a lawyer with the Alabama State Legislature from 1926 to 1938, and Frances Cunningham, a homemaker. Lee’s father once defended two black suspects for killing a white storeowner; however, both accusers were hanged.
As a college student, Lee wrote for Huntingdon College’s literary journal Huntress and the University of Alabama’s humor journal Rammer Jammer. She wrote works about racial injustice, a topic rarely mentioned in the Southern campuses.
Lee sent the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman, the original version of To Kill a Mockingbird in the spring of 1957, and after many revisions, it was later published July 11, 1960 by the name of the latter. The novel quickly became a bestseller, won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and won the 1999 “Best Novel of the Century” by the Library Journal.
The novel is as Lee describes writing should be: “about what he knows and write truthfully.” Contrary to common belief, To Kill a Mockingbird is not an autobiography though it is based heavily on characters from Lee’s childhood. In fact, Atticus Finch is based off of Lee’s father, an attorney, Dill is modeled after Lee’s childhood friend, Truman Capote, and Boo Radley is modeled after the son of a family who lived in a boarded up house. Even the trial of Tom Robinson is based off of the Scottsboro Boys case, in which nine black males were falsely convicted and sentenced to death for raping two white females.
Go Set a Watchman was later published July 14, 2015 as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, though it is really just the original manuscript of the literary classic. In the weeks leading up to its release, Amazon revealed that Go Set a Watchman is their most pre ordered book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007); bookstores stayed open all day and night to meet up with the demand.
Harper Lee was a very private person, rarely giving any interviews or press, and well respected by the people of her town. It is truly a great loss to the world to lose such a talented writer who fiercely wrote of the truths that no one in her time was ready for. Harper Lee serves as an inspiration and aspiration for us college students, as leaders of tomorrow, to continue to do work like hers by challenging societal norms and openly expressing what we believe in.
Harper Lee, thank you for inspiring and igniting the growth of conscience in people. You will be missed dearly.