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To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee
Interview: Ron Newquist
Author Information

Nelle Harper Lee


     Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28 1926 in Monroeville Alabama, a city of about 7,000 people in Monroe County, which has about 24,000 people. Monroeville is in southwest Alabama, about halfway between Montgomery and Mobile. In order to concentrate on writing Harper Lee gave up her position with the airline and moved into a cold-water apartment with makeshift furniture. Her father's sudden illness forced her to divide her time between New York and Monroeville, a practice she has continued. 
     In 1957 Miss Lee submitted the manuscript of her novel to the J. B. Lippincott Company. She was told that her novel consisted of a series of short stories strung together, and she was urged to re-write it. For the next two and a half years she re-worked the manuscript with the help of her editor, Tay Hohoff, and in 1960 To Kill a Mockingbird was published, her only published book. On May 29 1961 the Alabama Legislature passed a resolution to congratulate Miss Lee on her success. That year she had two articles published:
Love--In Other Words in Vogue, and Christmas To Me in McCalls. "Christmas To Me" is the story of Harper Lee receiving the gift of a year's time for writing from friends.
     In June of 1966, Harper Lee was one of two persons named by President Johnson to the National Council of Arts. Also named to the 26 member council was artist Richard Diebenkorn Jr. In the same year, on November 28th, Truman Capote held his fabulous and flawless Black and White Dance in honour of Katherine Graham. In Cold Blood had been published in January, with its dedication to Jack Dunphy and Harper Lee. The 480 invitations included one to her. 
     Miss Lee attended the 1983 Alabama History and Heritage Festival in Eufaula, Alabama. She presented the essay
Romance and High Adventure. Most of what has been published on the doings of Miss Lee in the last many years is speculation. Apparently she still plays golf, and there are various stories of her writing her memoirs. An article in the Standard Times reported that Miss Lee was working on a book about the Reverend Maxwell of Alexander City, Alabama. He was a local black preacher who murdered several family members in order to collect their life insurance, and who was murdered at the funeral of his last victim. In his book Lost Friendships Donald Windham reported that in 1984 Miss Lee attended a dinner at his place after the memorial for Truman Capote. She came with Alvin and Marie Dewey, who she had met when in Kansas with Capote to do research for In Cold Blood.
     Miss Lee has received a number of honorary doctorates, perhaps four. In 1990 she was one of five recipients at the University of Alabama. She did not speak or give an interview. In 1997 she was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters at Spring Hill College in Mobile Alabama. Professor Margaret Davis told Miss Lee she was being honored for her "lyrical elegance, her portrayal of human strength, and wisdom." Miss Lee did not speak to the cheering and applauding audience; Colman McCarthy, another degree recipient did. A photograph of a radiant Miss Lee appeared in the Mobile Register on May 12, 1997.