Harper Lee Introduction
What Harper Lee did... and why you should care
In July 1960, J.B. Lippincott Company published To Kill A Mockingbird, a story of social injustice, morals, and growing up in the Depression-era South. It was the debut novel of a 34-year-old woman named Nelle Harper Lee, who dropped the "Nelle" from her pen name because she didn't want it to be mispronounced. Lee's book went on to become one of the most successful novels in American history. To Kill A Mockingbird has sold more than 30 million copies, with another 100,000 flying off the shelves each year. The book has a place on virtually every Best Of, Greatest Novels, and Favorite Books list in existence. The movie adaptation is a classic in its own right. The success of both guaranteed fame and financial security for the rest of Lee's life.
Every word of To Kill A Mockingbird has been analyzed in countless essays and critical papers. But far less is known about the book's author, and that's just the way Harper Lee wants it. Unlike her childhood friend and fellow literary superstar Truman Capote, who once confessed to having a love affair with "cameras—all cameras,"1 Harper Lee has studiously avoided the public eye since the publication of her one and only novel. (She's alive and well, and reportedly splits her time between New York City and Alabama.) She declines interviews. She refuses public appearances and says little when she makes them. Enterprising reporters have knocked on her door and she has firmly turned them away, though not without autographing their copies of To Kill A Mockingbird with a polite "Best Wishes."
Biographers have practically torn their hair out trying to get close to their unwilling subject, with one even faking his way onto an online reunion site in an attempt to contact her old classmates. We won't go that far. What we have here at Shmoop is the story of Harper Lee's life and work—as much as she has been willing to share with the world. And we think that's enough. Harper Lee wrote a book that has brought hope and tolerance to countless numbers of people. And as Atticus Finch reminded us with respect to the title's mockingbird, to harass a creature that brings nothing but joy is a sin.