NEW YORK // Harper Lee, the American writer whose bestselling book To Kill a Mockingbird became a classroom standard for the study of racial injustice in the United States, has died. She was 89.
She died in her sleep early on Friday at an assisted-living facility in Monroeville, Alabama, according to Steven Hofman, an adviser to Lee.
She had been in “good basic health until her passing”, he said.
Lee, who once aspired to be the Jane Austen of southern Alabama, won both critical acclaim and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her 1960 work. The book is among the most popular works of fiction, having sold about 40 million copies. The 1962 film adaptation won three Academy Awards.
Avoiding the burdens of fame and the challenge of matching the popularity of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee did not publish another book for 55 years.
Last February her publisher stunned the literary world when it revealed that a different version of her classic book had been discovered among her belongings and would be published in July under the title Go Set a Watchman. Pre-orders for the “sequel”, written before its better-known original, pushed it to No 1 on Amazon.com before release.
In US classrooms, To Kill a Mockingbird is often assigned to middle-school students wrestling with coming-of-age issues and concepts of justice. The story is told through the eyes of a young girl named Scout, who watches her father, the small-town lawyer Atticus Finch, attempt to save a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in the segregated South of the 1930s.
In 2007, then US president George W Bush awarded Lee the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour.
Lee fielded reporters’ questions when the news of her Pulitzer Prize was announced in 1961, and she helped filmmakers publicise the movie version the following year. She then tired of the spotlight and public queries about her next novel and turned away most interviewers after 1964.
Retreating to her hometown of Monroeville, Lee shared a house with her sister and spent a few months each year in New York, staying in a Manhattan apartment she kept for decades.
Though she mostly avoided public appearances, she attended a memorial service for lifelong friend Truman Capote after his 1984 death in Los Angeles. She also remained close to the family of Gregory Peck, who won the Oscar for best actor as Atticus Finch, the character Lee had modeled after her father.
* Bloomberg News
Source: art & life