Harper Lee is best known as the author of one of the most affecting and widely read books of American literature, To Kill a Mockingbird. The native Alabamian drew deeply from her coming-of-age years in her small hometown of Monroeville.
Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel explores the dimensions of prejudice, hate, loyalty, and love through the eyes of a young girl as she awakens to the complexities of human nature and its capacity for both good and evil. In July 2015, Lee published Go Set a Watchman, the original incarnation of To Kill a Mockingbird that was discovered in a safety-deposit box in Monroeville. It met with widespread public interest and media focus.
Lee was born in Monroeville on April 28, 1926, the youngest child of Amasa Coleman Lee, a lawyer, and Frances Finch, who apparently struggled with episodes of mental illness (perhaps what is now diagnosed as manic depression). Lee denied that the story of To Kill a Mockingbird is autobiographical, but her fiction was certainly influenced and shaped by her childhood experiences, shared with a brother and two sisters and fellow author-to-be Truman Capote, a frequent summer visitor to Monroeville. As she described this period of her life in a 1965 interview, “We had to use our own devices in our play, for our entertainment. We didn’t have much money . . . . We didn’t have toys, nothing was done for us, so the result was that we lived in our imagination most of the time. We devised things; we were readers and we would transfer everything we had seen on the printed page to the backyard in the form of high drama.”