“To Kill A Mockingbird” Author Harper Lee Dies At 89

Lee said the success of "Mockingbird," was "just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected."

Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Go Set a Watchman has died. Her death was confirmed by authorities in Monroeville, Alabama, where she was born. She was 89.

Mockingbird enjoying instantaneous success when it was published in 1960, and won the Pulitzer the following year. Through the eyes of its precocious heroine, Scout, the novel addressed injustice and racial intolerance in America in a way that struck a chord with readers.

Lee never married or had children, and some scholars tout Scout as a coded lesbian character, or at least a queer icon.

harper lee

A private woman, Lee never warmed to the idea of being a celebrity and felt oppressed by demands for a followup to Mockingbird.

“I never expected any sort of success with ‘Mockingbird,’ ” Ms. Lee told an interviewer in 1964. “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. I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”

It took more than a half-century for that followup, Go Set a Watchman, to hit shelves in 2015. Last February, HarperCollins announced plans to publish the manuscript, which was long thought to be lost.

Writes The New York Times:

It told the story of Atticus and Scout 20 years later, when Scout is a young woman living in New York, and included several scenes in which Atticus expresses conservative views on race relations seemingly at odds with his liberal stance in the earlier novel.

Review were mixed—and critics questioned whether Lee was mentally competent to approve its publication—but the book was a commercial success and topped the fiction charts.

In a statement about Watchman, Lee said, “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.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery