Author Harper Lee passes away at age 89

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Samantha DeForest

On February 19, 2016, the world of American literature lost one of its most beloved contributors when Harper Lee, author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, passed away in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. While she produced this iconic work of American literature, she was a recluse who refused to appear publicly.

“Most literary agents would kill to have Nelle Harper Lee as a client,” explains Mark Seal for Vanity Fair. “She published only one novel, but today, 53 years later, it remains a global blockbuster, having sold more than 30 million copies in 40 languages and still selling 750,000 copies a year, according to HarperCollins, the publisher.”

Everyone probably remembers reading her classic novel in either middle school or high school and identifying with Scout and Atticus Finch, but few people recall the other novel she wrote many years later—Go Set a Watchman. The New York Times describes this novel as a surprising follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird 20 years later in which Scout lives in New York and is at odds with her now-racist father.

“The book was published in July with an initial printing of 2 million and, with enormous advance sales, immediately leapt to the top of the fiction best-seller lists, despite tepid reviews,” writes William Grimes for The New York Times.

Unfortunately, instead of mourning the loss of an incredible author, the general public seems more interested in the scandalous circumstances surrounding the discovery of her lesser-known manuscript.

“[Lee’s] lawsuit charges that in 2007 her agent, Samuel Pinkus, duped the frail 80-year-old Lee into assigning him the copyright to her only book, To Kill a Mockingbird—then diverted royalties from the beloved 1960 classic,” writes Seal.

He investigated how exactly Pinkus took advantage of Lee.

“[The lawsuit] claims that Pinkus ‘engaged in a scheme to dupe Harper Lee, then 80-years-old with declining hearing and eye sight, into assigning her valuable TKAM [To Kill a Mockingbird] copyright to [Pinkus’s company] for no consideration,’ and then created shell companies and bank accounts to which the book’s royalties were funneled,” explains Seal.

The fact that she spent the last leg of her life involved in a lawsuit, forcing her to emerge from the privacy she preferred, makes me sad for our society. I loved Harper Lee for writing one of my favorite books, and I know I’m not the only one who laughed out loud just thinking about Scout rolling around on the ground trapped in a ham costume.

America lost an icon, but she left behind a beautiful legacy in her writing. The name Atticus has even started popping up on baby name lists again as we continue to pay tribute to one of the most popular books ever written.

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