Harper Lee, the author of the literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird, has died. She was 89. No cause of death was given, but AL.com reports that multiple sources in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where the author resided, confirmed her death. Her publisher said that Lee “died peacefully,” but offered no further details. In 2007, Lee suffered a stroke, and during the controversy surrounding her 2015 novel Go Set a Watchman, the New York Times reported that the author was infirm.
“The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness,” HarperCollins US president and publisher Michael Morrison said in a statement. “She lived her life the way she wanted — in private — surrounded by books and the people who loved her.”
“Knowing Nelle these past few years has been not just an utter delight but an extraordinary privilege,” Lee’s agent Andrew Nurnberg said in a statement. “When I saw her just six weeks ago, she was full of life, her mind and mischievous wit as sharp as ever. She was quoting Thomas More and setting me straight on Tudor history. We have lost a great writer, a great friend and a beacon of integrity.”
“The passing of Harper Lee is a loss for all of us,” Tom DeLonge, formerly of Blink-182, tells Rolling Stone. Atticus, the popular streetwear company he cofounded in 2001, was named after the iconic character in Mockingbird. “Her work challenged us to think about equality, tolerance and human kindness. May she rest in peace.”
Born in Monroeville in 1926, Lee moved to New York City in the late Forties to work as an airline reservation agent while writing fiction on the side. After procuring an agent in 1956, Lee sold the manuscript for her first novel, Go Set a Watchman; while that book wasn’t published at the time, Lee revisited that novel’s central characters for her 1960 debut To Kill a Mockingbird, which introduced the world to iconic characters Atticus Finch, Scout and Boo Radley.
The novel became an instant bestseller and Lee was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Following the success of the novel, Lee accompanied her childhood friend Truman Capote to Kansas where he was working on the true crime story that would become In Cold Blood. To Kill a Mockingbird was also transformed into a successful 1962 film starring Gregory Peck.
To Kill a Mockingbird would be Lee’s final work for nearly 55 years as the author receded from public life, opting instead to return to Monroeville and be near her sister Alice, who served as her sister’s advisor and who passed away in November 2014. Soon after Alice’s death, it was revealed that HarperCollins would publish Lee’s Go Set a Watchman manuscript. Having pledged to never publish her work again, the novel sparked a controversy among those who questioned Lee’s mental faculties.
Despite only publishing two novels in her lifetime, Lee was the recipient of both the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom thanks to the enduring impact To Kill a Mockingbird has had on society.