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Harper Lee, Author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," Has Died at 89

harper lee dies 89

By Lynsey Eidell

Sad news for book lovers everywhere today: Harper Lee, the iconic author of 1960's "To Kill a Mockingbird," has died at the age of 89, her publisher HarperCollins confirms.

Lee is best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," which after its publishing quickly became one of the most successful and beloved books in history. It took only a week to soar to the top of the best sellers list and remained there for 88 weeks. In 1962, the story of Atticus and Scout was transformed into a hit film starring Gregory Peck. By the 1970s, the novel had sold a whopping 10 million copies; by 1988, it was being taught in nearly three-quarters of the United States' secondary schools. Just a decade later, To Kill a Mockingbird was declared the best novel of the 20th century by the Library Journal.

But Lee largely disappeared from the literary scene following the success of Mockingbird. She lived a reclusive life, rarely appearing or speaking in public, and hopes for a second novel from Lee disappeared as the years (and then decades) passed on. That is, until 2015, when her lawyer, Tonja Carter, located the manuscript for Go Set a Watchmen among Lee's personal collection of papers. Harper published the manuscript, which was originally submitted to Lee's editors in 1957 and tells the story of Scout and Atticus 20 years after the events of Mockingbird, in July of last year. It received mixed reviews.

Similar to her beloved character Scout, Harper Lee was the daughter of a Southern lawyer, born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama to Asa Coleman Lee, a prominent attorney, and Frances Finch Lee. She attended the local women's college, Huntingdon College, for a year before transferring to the University of Alabama to study law. While there, she wrote a column for the university newspaper and became editor of the university's humor magazine, Rammer Jammer, during her senior year. It was during a summer student-exchange program at Oxford University after graduation that Lee decided to become a writer. She moved to Manhattan in 1949 and first developed a portfolio of short stories, which led her to agent Maurice Crain, who encouraged Lee to write a novel — of course, "To Kill a Mockingbird" become that novel.

For the majority of her adult life, Lee lived a quiet life in Monroeville with her sister Alice, who practiced law into her 90s and died in 2014 at the age of 103.

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Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images