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Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, has died at 89

Harper Lee accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
Harper Lee accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Harper Lee, who wrote the classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird before withdrawing from public life for most of the rest of her life, has died at 89, according to AL.com.

To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Until this year, Lee had never published another novel. She had a stroke in 2007 and reportedly had dementia.

Lee's last year of life was marred by the controversy over Go Set a Watchman, a novel billed as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird that was suddenly announced in February 2015 and published in July.

There were questions about the ethics of publishing the book in the first place, given Lee's mental state, and whether she was able to give consent. And the book itself made headlines with its portrayal of Atticus Finch, the saintly lawyer at the center of To Kill a Mockingbird, by depicting him as a virulent racist.

But while Watchman made headlines, To Kill a Mockingbird remains a beloved, frequently taught American classic that's far more likely to define her legacy. And though Lee was seen as a recluse by the rest of the world, she lived an active life in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, and simply chose not to write anymore. "When you’re at the top," she once told her cousin, according to Smithsonian magazine, "there is only one way to go."

Further reading:

  • In 2014, New York magazine wrote about what happened to Lee, and to her hometown, as time passed.
  • Vox's Dara Lind explained the controversy over Go Set a Watchman.
  • The New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell argued in 2009 that To Kill a Mockingbird is about the limits of Southern liberalism, not its triumphs.

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