Nelle Harper Lee is known as Harper Lee in the literary world. She was born on 28th April in 1926 in Monroeville in the state of Alabama. Her father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was a famous lawyer and political activist, while her mother, Frances Cunningham, was a homemaker. She spent her early years in Alabama with her parents and siblings. Her childhood friend, Truman Capote, also played a crucial role in her life and literary career. Unfortunately, her mother’s mental illness stole the joys of her childhood. Her father died in 1962, followed by her mother, who died on 2nd June in 1951.
Harper Lee’s interest in reading developed during her early years. She started her educational journey from a public school in Monroeville, followed by Huntington College, a private institute for women in Montgomery. There, she developed an interest in literature, and focused on studies, developing her skills as a writer. Later, she attended the University of Alabama and completed graduation in 1944. Further, from 1945 to 1949, she became the part of the Glee club and literary honor society. She also became the publication’s editor of the school’s humor magazine, The Rammer Jammer. Harper Lee continued to pursue her interest in literature. She moved to New York City in 1941. There she met and developed a friendship with a famous composer and lyricist, Michael Martin Brown, and his wife, Joy, who helped her in her literary pursuits. Moreover, her childhood friend, Truman Capote, a rising literary star of that time, also played a significant role in her literary growth.
Harper Lee’s life was filled in a series of challenges. She spent a turbulent childhood due to the psychological ailments of her mother. Her interest in literature led him to choose writing as a profession to fulfill this desire. She faced many obstacles, including financial instability. To continue her struggle and to earn a living, she started a job. Later her friend helped her with a handsome amount suffice for her task. Therefore, she left her job and focused entirely on writing. Her untiring efforts and passion came out in the form of a novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It hit the shelves in 1960. She published her 2nd novel Go Set a Watchman in 2015.
Despite facing challenges and deteriorating health, she continued to thrive and published her 2nd work in 2015. She breathed her last on 19th February in 2016 at the age of eighty-nine.
Some Important Facts of Her Life
- Her masterpiece, To Kill a Mocking Bird, won international recognition. It had been translated into ten languages.
- In 2007, President George w. Bush presented her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her praiseworthy contribution to American literature.
- Her novel, To Kill a Mocking Bird, won Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961.
- She wrote only two books in her entire career and yet left a great impression in the literary world.
Harper Lee became a published writer when her articles were published in the school magazine, Rammer Jammer. Unfortunately, she was dropped out of Oxford University, after which she moved to New York, where she worked hard to earn her living. Also, her reunion with her childhood friend, Truman Capote, helped her literary career. Both helped each other; Lee assisted him in his assignments and fueled her thoughts about writing. It was during that time, she completed her globally acclaimed novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Besides the novel, she also wrote a few essays, including Romance and High Adventure. Later in 2015, she published another novel, Go Set a Watchman.
After establishing her career as a writer, her realistic ideas added variety to the world of literature. Harper Lee used figurative language in her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which won global recognition. With the help of her straightforward and realistic writing style, she cleverly created tensions in her works. To highlight the misunderstanding of certain situations, she skillfully used humorous language in her pieces. Moreover, the successful use of narrative element and characterization enables the readers to see the issues and events using the character’s lenses. Her writings reflect worldwide issues such as; prejudice, social and class differences, and racism of certain institutions. The recurring themes in most of her work are loss, love, politics, religion and society, and racial discrimination.
Harper Lee’s Major Works
- Novels: She wrote only two novels during her life, those are, To Kill a Mocking Bird and Go Set a Watchman.
- Other Works: Besides novels, she tried her hands on literary articles. Some of them include Love—In Other Words, When Children Discover America, Christmas to Me and Romance and High Adventure.
Harper Lee’s Impact on Future Literature
Though Harper Lee wrote two books in her lifetime, her literary ideas made the greatest contribution to American as well as international literature. Her distinctive writing style made her stand among the best American writers. Moreover, her ideas about culture and society left a profound impact on her reader’s lives. Her thoughtful ideas influenced many great poets and writers.
- “In New York, you are your own person. You may reach out and embrace all of Manhattan in sweet aloneness, or you can go to hell if you want to.” (Go Set a Watchman)
- “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” (To Kill a Mocking Bird)
- “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (To Kill a Mockingbird)