Nelle Harper Lee is born in Monroeville, Alabama, the youngest of four children of lawyer Amasa Coleman Lee and homemaker Frances Cunningham Finch Lee.
Nine young African-American men are convicted and sentenced to death after two white women falsely accuse them of rape, in a sensational case known as the Scottsboro Boys Trial. The boys are released from prison six years later when one of the women recants her testimony.
Lee befriends a boy in her neighborhood named Truman Streckfus Persons, an eccentric child sent to live with relatives in Monroeville. They bond instantly. Their friendship lasts for decades. Also a writer, Truman eventually adopts the pen name Truman Capote.
Lee enters Huntingdon, a women's college in Alabama.
Lee transfers from Huntingdon College to the University of Alabama, where she plans to pursue a law degree. She dislikes law, but enjoys working for the campus newspaper and humor magazine.
Truman Capote publishes the autobiographical novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, which features a tomboyish character named Isabel who is based on Harper Lee.
Lee quits law school and moves to New York City to pursue a career as a writer.
Lee supports herself in New York with jobs at the reservation desks of Eastern Air Lines and British Overseas Airways Corporation. She works for these airlines for several years while writing takes a back seat.
Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy from Chicago, is murdered by a gang of white men for allegedly whistling at a white woman. His mother insists on an open casket at his funeral so mourners can see the brutality of his injuries.
While riding the bus home from work in Montgomery, Alabama, a 42-year-old African-American woman named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white passenger. Though she gets arrested, her act of civil disobedience sparks the Montgomery Bus Boycott and becomes one of the defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement.
Lee receives a life-changing Christmas gift. Friends pool money and buy her a year off from work so that she can concentrate on writing. She supports herself as a writer from then on.
Frustrated and furious with her novel's lack of progress, Lee opens a window in her New York apartment and hurls the draft of her manuscript out into the snow. She calls her editor, Tay Hohoff of J.B. Lippincott Company, who orders her to retrieve the materials immediately.
Lee travels with her childhood friend Truman Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, to help research a story he is writing about the murder of a wealthy farming family, the Clutters. Capote eventually turns the work into a non-fiction narrative book entitled In Cold Blood.
To Kill A Mockingbird is published by J.B. Lippincott Company. The book is an instant critical and commercial success.
Lee is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for To Kill A Mockingbird, at the age of 35.
The film version of To Kill A Mockingbird is released, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout. Like the book it's based on, the film is also an immediate success. Lee calls Horton Foote's screenplay "one of the best translations of a book to film ever made."26
In Cold Blood is published. Capote falls in with a glamorous, fast-living crowd after the success of his book, and his long friendship with Lee subsequently erodes.
Truman Capote dies at age 59. Though they once were close, Lee says after his death that she had not heard from her longtime friend in years.
Library Journal votes To Kill A Mockingbird the best novel of the twentieth century.
In an effort to get people to read books (and talk to each other), Chicago embarks on a campaign to get every adult in the city to read To Kill A Mockingbird at the same time. Participants in this "One Book, One Chicago" project are given pins emblazoned with mockingbirds to help spot fellow readers around town.
Harper Lee breaks a decades-long publishing drought with a piece in O Magazine entitled "A Letter to Oprah from Harper Lee." In it, she defends the value of books and of reading in an era of "laptops, cellphones, iPods and minds like empty rooms."
Harper Lee is inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honor society of 250 architects, composers, artists, and writers. Nomination to the Academy is deemed the highest formal recognition of artistic talent and accomplishment in this country.
President George W. Bush presents Harper Lee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The White House press release explains, "At a critical moment in our history, her beautiful book, To Kill A Mockingbird, helped focus the nation on the turbulent struggle for equality."