Author Harper Lee has died

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Caption
File photo

Credit: Jennifer Brett

Credit: Jennifer Brett

By Jennifer Brett and Adam Carlson

Beloved Southern author Harper Lee has died at 89, Alabama Media Group was first to report, citing "multiple sources in her hometown of Monroeville."

MORE: Photos of Lee throughout the years

File photo
Caption
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Credit: Jennifer Brett

Credit: Jennifer Brett

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Last year, after a hiatus of many decades, Lee's second book "Go Set a Watchman" was released.

Reactions, the AP noted at the time, ranged from Oprah Winfrey excitedly saying she "couldn't be happier if my name was Scout" to concerns over whether Lee had actually authorized the deal. At the time publishers said they had no direct contact with the author and that the deal was negotiated through her agent and lawyer.

At the time, then 88-year-old Lee announced the book via statement:

"In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called 'Go Set a Watchman,' It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout's childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became 'To Kill a Mockingbird') from the point of view of the young Scout.

"I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn't realized it (the original book) had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years."

At the time, Lee was living in an assisted living center in her hometown of Monroeville, the real-life model for the fictional town of Maycomb of "To Kill A Mockingbird." The years had left her deaf, blind and largely wheelchair bound.

Lee moved to New York City in 1949 to pursue a possible writing career, after five years spent studying at Huntingdon College, at Oxford University and at the University of Alabama's law school.

In New York, the work that would eventually become "Mockingbird" was made possible through the generosity of two friends, a married couple, introduced to Lee through Truman Capote.

Several years of writing followed, until the 1960 publication of "Mockingbird." Lee also accompanied Capote, by then an acclaimed writer and Lee's friend since childhood, to Kansas to research what would become his true crime book "In Cold Blood."

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But as Lee's public profile grew ("Mockingbird" won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961; and she made trips to Hollywood to watch the film adaptation's production), her public presence dimmed.

Lee's opinion of the press was low, and she was bedeviled by theories that Capote had written "Mockingbird" with or for her, or that it was drawn substantially from her own life, or that her attempts at a second novel were disastrous — none of which she could dissuade.

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Credit: Jennifer Brett

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Lee's roots are also deep in Monroeville, her hometown and the geographic basis for "Mockingbird." But her relationship with the town has been ambivalent, Boris Kachka wrote in New York Magazine.

In 2007,  Lee suffered a stroke and moved full time back to Monroeville, into an assisted-living facility; in 2011, her older sister, Alice, who also helped manage Lee's affairs, retired from the law and herself moved into a nursing home. Alice died at 103.

Information from AJC archives was used in this report

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