On February 19, 2016, Harper Lee, the beloved author of the beautiful, classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, died in her sleep at the age of 89. Her death was confirmed last Friday in her hometown at Monroeville, Alabama.
Lee’s family stated in the CNN news about her condition before her death: “Her passing was unexpected. She remained in good basic health until her passing. The family is in mourning and there will be a private funeral service in the upcoming days, as she had requested.”
Social media was also blazing with swift, sensational reactions by various celebrities who were moved by Harper Lee’s novel, including authors John Green and Stephen King, Oprah Winfrey, and even the Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who had been jailed in Iran.
Moreover, the president of the publisher company HarperCollins expressed his feelings, “The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to- in private- surrounded by books and the people who loved her. I will always cherish the time I spent with her.”
Lee’s debut novel To Kill a Mockingbird has immortalized her name beyond American literature. Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird speaks to all ages upon the darker aspects of American history, exploring justice and racism in the Deep South during the Great Depression. Written in a steady, lyrical voice of a young, impulsive girl, Scout Finch, who is only five-years-old when she begins her long childhood tale, describes how her townspeople get involved with the controversial, corrupt case of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape.
Becoming an immediate bestseller, the novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, honored by President Bush with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and then by Obama with the National Medal of Arts for her literary contributions.
“But what that one story did, more powerfully than one hundred speeches possibly could, was change the way we saw each other, and then the way we saw ourselves. Through the uncorrupted eyes of a child, she showed us the beautiful complexity of our common humanity, and the importance of striving for justice in our own lives, our communities, and our country.” – President Obama
Likewise, it is beyond doubt over the scope of influence Lee has brought about, touching the hearts of countless of readers.
Her novel was also chosen to be turned into a movie, which is now known to be the “best-ever book-to-screen adaptation” according to various news webs like The Guardian, Telegraph, and Hollywood. The movie skillfully depicted the dilapidated setting of the 1930s with its battered homes, the county courthouse, and most importantly, the characters themselves.
Mary Badham, the actress who played Scout Finch and nominated for the Oscars in 1963, has known the author for more than 50 years. Badham told the Daily News on Friday: “I think that we have all benefited from her work and her fight for social justice. I’m very sad at her loss. She will be very fondly remembered.”
However despite the success of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee has maintained a low profile for decades, declining public interview requests and even the opportunity to address the audience at the Alabama Academy of Honor. And until now, she has retained her own private life with her older sister Alice in a small-town Alabama.
Lee’s novel has been translated into more than forty languages, sold over thirty million copies to be studied and read by students all over the world to this day, including our school KIS. Though Harper Lee is not here with us anymore, she will nonetheless remain as our widely renowned, literary icon for generations.
– Sammie Kim (18′)