Harper Lee was born April 28, 1926, and went on to write one of the most renown children's novels of all time: To Kill a Mockingbird. Similar to other timeless classics like Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, Harper Lee's debut novel was a coming-of-age tale told through the eyes of a young girl.
Although To Kill a Mockingbird garnered Harper Lee a Pulitzer and lasting literary fame, the author was a recluse and, up until her death at 89, led a secluded life outside the spotlight. Read on for 5 interesting facts you might not know about the enigmatic and mysterious Harper Lee.
1. Her first name isn't Harper
The author's full name is actually Nelle Harper Lee. She was named Nelle after her grandmother, Ellen (Nelle is Ellen reversed), but ultimately dropped the name in favor of the simpler Harper Lee.
The author had a good reason for this. When To Kill a Mockingbird was up for publication, she opted to omit her first name because she was afraid people would misread or mispronounce Nelle as Nellie, and Nellie Lee was a bit of tongue twister.
2. She lived next door to Truman Capote
When Harper Lee was a young girl growing up in Alabama, she made friends with a neighbor boy—his name was none other than Truman Capote. The two went on to have a long-lasting relationship.
Capote relied on Lee for research assistance while he was in Kansas working on his award-winning true crime book, In Cold Blood. Harper Lee actually ended up penning a magazine article on the Clutter murders, and this served as a cornerstone to Capote's book too!
3. And modeled a character after him
One of the central characters in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is a boy named Dill. In her book, Dill lives next door to siblings Jem and Scout Finch and plays a prominent role in the story's themes and dramas.
Dill—who is described as a short, confident boy with an active imagination—is actually based on her perception of Truman Capote as a child.
4. Harper Lee's friends helped her write her book
While Harper Lee's friends didn't physically help her pen her famous novel, they did play a part in providing her with the time to focus on her writing. In 1956, a few of Harper Lee's friends pooled their money and gifted her a year's wages for Christmas.
The intention was for Harper Lee to be able to stop working and spend her time writing. It was money well spent, because she ended up using that year off to write To Kill a Mockingbird.
5. Harper Lee only wrote two novels
You would think that the woman behind an American classic like To Kill a Mockingbird would go on to have a proficient career as a novelist. But this didn't turn out to be the case for Harper Lee. She published To Kill a Mockingbird when she was in her 30s, and in the decades that followed many people came to believe it would be her first and last novel.
However, when the author was in her 80s, her publishers rediscovered a sequel she'd actually written before To Kill a Mockingbird. Due to Harper Lee's declaration that she'd never publish a second novel, the publishing of Go Set a Watchman in 2015 was met with controversy and suspicion in the reading community.
Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird or Go Set a Watchman?
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