American Author Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926 to Frances Cunningham Finch Lee and Amasa Coleman Lee (Spencer, 2013) and was raised in Monroeville, Alabama. Her father was a lawyer by profession who served in the state legislature from 1927 to 1939. A tomboy by nature, Harper Lee was good friends with Truman Capote who was the inspiration behind the character Dill in the award-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
In 1931, trials took place in Scottsboro Alabama where nine black men were accused of raping two white girls (Spencer, 2013). The defendants were almost lynched a day before the trial and were denied a lawyer until the day the trial began. Despite evidence that indicated their innocence, they were found guilty by an all white jury. Harper Lee was left in awe by the events that ensued and it provided the basis for her novel.
Between 1944 and 1945, she studied at Alabama’s Huntingdon College before transferring to the University of Alabama where she studied law. She later went on to study at Oxford University in Great Britain. Afterwards, Lee moved to New York where she worked with Eastern Airlines before devoting herself to writing. Though she lived in New York, she repeatedly returned to Alabama to take care for her ailing father (Conevey, 2013).
Under the guidance of her editor Tay Hohoff, she published her only novel To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960. Despite mixed reactions from reviewers, Lee was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and the book had sales that topped over 15 million. The novel was primarily based on her experiences and the movie of the same title was made in 1962 (Conevey, 2013).
Since then, she has received many honorary doctorates from various educational institutions and was also named to the National Council of Arts by President Johnson in 1966. She currently lives in New York, keeps a low profile, and has published short essays such as Christmas to Me, When Children Discover America, and Love‒In Other Words. In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.