Harper Lee is most remembered for her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” which won a Pulitzer award in 2009. Since then, the piece has become an integral part of America’s modern literature. Another novel she wrote was “Go set a Watchman” published in 2015, which was initially touted as a sequel to Mockingbird but was later revealed to be the early first drafts of Mockingbird.
Born on the 28th of April, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee was the youngest of four children. Her childhood in the South is perhaps what motivated her to write her award-winning classic which talked about the attitudes of the adults to class and race in the Southern states.
Her interest in modern literature was born during her enrollment in high school which was also aided by Gladys Watson, a teacher that became her mentor. We bring you 10 fascinating facts about Harper a lot of people don’t know.
Harper Lee Facts
1. To Kill a Mockingbird could not be found online before 2014
Before 2014, if you wanted to read her classic novel, it had to be a physical copy. It could not be found at any online book catalog because that was how Harper Lee wanted it.
In 2015, during the celebration of the electronic publication, she said dusty books and libraries were her preferred option but the electronic copy would serve a new generation, an interesting Harper Lee fact.
2. Harper Lee and Truman Capote were once close friends before things turned sour
Capote is the author of the 1958 classic, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He and Lee grew up next door to each other in Monroeville, Alabama, and even inspired characters in each other’s novels. The pair worked together on Capote’s seminal crime non-fiction, In Cold Blood.
However, they fell out for reasons that were never revealed, though it’s claimed that the fallout was down to Lee feeling she wasn’t adequately credited for the research she completed for his book.
3. She used to work as an airline reservation clerk
During her stay in New York City, she supported herself by working as an airline reservation clerk but soon pursued a career in writing. She left her job and put together a series of short stories about life in the South, which she submitted for publication in 1957.
4. One of her early interests was Law
In 1945, she joined the law program at the University of Alabama. Lee actively put more effort into literature and wrote for the humorous school magazine Rammer Jammer. An interesting fact about Harper Lee is that she eventually became the editor of the magazine but was forced to give up the position due to the pressure that came with studying law.
Even though at the time, she was studying law, she soon realized that writing was her true passion. Hence in 1949, she made the bold decision to quit law and focus on being a writer. This passion caused her to drop out of the university and relocate to New York City.
5. Her first name was Nelle
Harper Lee was born Nelle Harper Lee. Her first name is a backward spelling of her grandmother’s name, Ellen. When pursuing her writing career, Lee dropped her first name.
She decided it would be better for people to call her “Harper,” her middle name because she was afraid her first name, Nelle, would be mispronounced as “Nellie” instead of “Nell.”
6. She had a sporty side
Lee lived in New York as a young woman. Even after moving back to Monroeville, Alabama, she continued visiting NYC to root for the Mets. During her stay there, she would visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art by taking the bus most times. She reportedly preferred buses to taxis.
For much of her life, Lee was also an avid golfer, once saying she did her best creative thinking while playing golf, a fun Harper Lee fact. In her college years, she played powderpuff football. Lee also periodically took the time to fish at her favorite spot at home in Alabama during her later years.
7. Harper Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom in 2007
Since To Kill a Mockingbird was released, Lee honored little or no requests for interviews or public appearances. She never dated and was considered a recluse. She received several honorary degrees but refused to make speeches at the events.
On 5 November 2007, for her exceptional contribution to literature, George W. Bush honored Lee with the highest civilian honor in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She attended the ceremony and received her medal in person.
8. Her famous book To Kill a Mockingbird was once the most inspirational book, ahead of the bible
Although the Bible has massively outsold Lee’s novel on a global scale, with a sale of over 5 billion which is a staggering number compared to the 40 million sold copies of the novel.
Surprisingly, there was a time the Bible ranked second to Mockingbird in a poll taken in 2009 where the respondents picked their most inspirational book ever.
9. Despite her immense wealth, she lived a simple life
With limited knowledge of her finances in the history books, the belief is that she received $816,448.06 in Mockingbird royalties in the first six months of 2010, according to a NewYorker.com report. Yet she lived a very simple lifestyle, an interesting Harper Lee fact.
She would make regular trips to the laundromat because she did not own a washing machine. She also lived without other luxuries, including air conditioning, laptops, and cell phones. She used a manual typewriter for all writing and correspondence. Her prudence does not mean she couldn’t afford these gadgets. She loved the simplicity and was known to make many discreet donations to her Methodist local church and charities.
10. She loved the film adaptation of her novel
In 1962, an adaptation of her novel was released on the big screen and it was an instant success. The film later went on to win 3 Academy Awards and Lee called it one of the best translations of a book to film she had seen.
Gregory Peck won the Best Actor award for Gregory Finch and they developed a friendship after that. Years later, Gregory Peck’s grandson was named Harper Peck Voll, after her.
That concludes our rundown of some interesting facts about Harper Lee. She died on the 19th of February, 2016, making her about 89 years at the time of death. Her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird will continue to be one of the most important works ever to grace the literary world.
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