In the early 1900s, at the Finchburg in Florida, a young lad named Amasa Lee was struggling with all odd jobs for a living. He worked as a book keeper at the Flat Creek Mill publishing company where he met beautiful Frances Finch; they married in 1912. The couple lived briefly in Florida returning to live in Monroe country in 1913.
The youngest daughter of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee is Nelle Harper Lee who went on to become the famous Harper Lee. She was born on 28 April 1926 in Monroeville Alabama (a small town in Monroe country) which became the backdrop of her bestselling novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee was raised with two sisters, Alice and Louise and a brother, Edwin Coleman Lee.
Untill 1915 Amasa Lee worked as a book keeper, when he passed the bar he began practicing law. He also served on the Alabama state legislature (from 1926-1938) and as an editor of the Monroe Journal (from 1929-1947) which enabled Harper Lee to observe the various sections of the society.
The plot and the characters of To Kill a Mockingbird are loosely based on Lee’s observations of her family and neighbors. An event occurred near her home town in 1936 when she was ten years old. Amasa Lee, after becoming the lawyer, once defended to black men accused of murdering a white shopkeeper. Both the clients, the father and the son, were hanged. Even the novel’s plot involves an unsuccessful legal defense similar to the one undertaken by her father. The novel deals with the irrationality of an adult’s attitude towards race and class in her home town in the 1930s, as depicted through the eyes of two children.
While studying in the Monroe country high school, Harper Lee developed interest in English literature. After graduating from high school, she joined Huntingdon College in Montgomery for a year and transferred to the University of Alabama where she studied law and even wrote for university newspapers, but did not complete her degree.
By the spring of 1957, Harper Lee was ready with the value script of Go Set a Watchman and sent it to J B Lippincott publishing company which bought it at Lippincott, the novel fell into the hands of Tay Hohoff, he was impressed but as Hohoff saw it, the manuscript was no means fit for publication. During the next couple of years, she led Lee from one draft to the next until the book finally achieved its finished form and was retitled To Kill a Mockingbird. Published on July 11 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was an immediate bestseller and won critical acclaim and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
By the accounts, Lee was friendly and gregarious but has always been extremely private person. Consequently, most of the information available about her childhood comes from her friends. The character of Scott is autobiographical; readers gain their best access to Lee’s childhood or at least the flavors of her childhood within the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird.
After completion of To Kill a Mockingbird, she assisted her friend Capote in research of his bestselling book In Cold Blood. She didn’t write any other novel. She only published articles like Christmas to Me, Love- In Other Words and Romance and High Adventures. She even wrote Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey for O, The Oprah Magazine.
Another novel Go Set a Watchman was written in the mid 1950s and controversially published in July 2015 as a ‘sequel’, though it was later confirmed to be To Kill a Mockingbird‘s first draft.
In an interview, Lee told why she never wrote again.
“Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”
Lee died in her sleep on February 19, 2016, at the age of 89. Even with one best seller in her kitty, Harper Lee continues to rule our hearts even today. Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Medal of Arts are the added feathers to her crown.