Harper Lee, whose first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, about racial injustice in a small Alabama town, became one of the most beloved and most taught works of fiction ever written by an American, died on February 19 at the assisted living facility where she lived in Monroeville, Alabama. She was 89, the New York Times reports.
To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and sold more than 40 million copies. The success of the novel brought celebrity into Ms Lee’s life, success that was certainly deserved but not necessarily sought.
“I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird,” Ms Lee told a radio interviewer at the time. “I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers, but, at the same time I sort of hoped someone would like it well enough to give me encouragement.”
The 60s were a time of upheaval in the US, and her book enlightened millions of Whites then and, through the work of excellent teachers of literature, in the decades since the book’s publication. Her writing encouraged us to be tolerant and accepting of people in our midst who were different from ourselves, and that is a lesson many Americans can learn even today.
I personally thank her for her masterpiece, which stands as one of the greatest American novels. Her character Atticus Finch is timeless in how he showed that we don’t need the superpowers of Batman or Captain America to be a person of character and integrity who helps others.
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. —Atticus Finch in Mockingbird