The author of one of the defining novels of the 20th century, Harper Lee is also one of literature’s great enigmas. Her masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, was written over the course of two and a half years, after friends provided Lee with a cheque which made her financially independent. Go Set a Watchman, the book that is now widely accepted as Mockingbird’s first draft, was completed in 1957 but remained unpublished until 2015.
Books by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird was published to widespread acclaim in 1960 and its nuanced yet robust denunciation of small town racism has entered American cultural life as few other novels have done. In Scout, the six year old female narrator, and Atticus Finch, the heroic defence lawyer for the falsely accused African-American Tom Robinson, Lee crafted two of the century’s most enduring literary characters. and the novel, which scooped the Pulitzer Prize, went a long way to challenging accepted norms of racist behaviour, especially in the American deep South.
Despite feverish expectation Lee wrote no other novels or long-form works for the rest of her life, although she was instrumental in the research for Truman Capote’s pioneering work of faction In Cold Blood. In 1978 Lee began work on a true-crime book about an Alabamian serial killer but abandoned the idea - and its potential novelisation - after a number of years. Notoriously reclusive, she granted practically no interviews during her lifetime yet still remained one of the most important literary figures of the age.