By DELLA HETHCOX
On Friday, Feb. 19, the celebrated American author, Nelle Harper Lee, passed away at the age of 89 in Monroeville, Alabama. She died in her sleep.
Lee was laid to rest in a private ceremony in her hometown of Monroeville. The ceremony took place at First United Methodist Church, where roughly 40 of her friends and family attended the private ceremony.
For many, the quiet way in which Lee died echoed her life. Despite being a Pulitzer-Prize winning author, Lee sought a private life and avoided the spotlight. This was hard to accomplish due to the incredible popularity of her 1960 novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a book that quickly became fundamental to the American education system and beloved by readers of all ages.
Per Lee’s request, her longtime friend and professor emeritus of history at Auburn University, Wayne Flynt, delivered her eulogy. A few years prior, in 2006, Flynt delivered the same speech in honor of Lee’s being awarded the Birmingham Pledge Foundation Award due to her efforts for racial justice.
Flynt delivered “Atticus Inside Ourselves” for a second time, word for word, at Lee’s memorial service, which Lee’s nephew, Hank Conner, said was one of the most succinct and accurate assessments of her magnum opus.
Although Lee is best known for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she authored articles for McCalls and Vogue, as well as a letter for O, The Oprah Magazine. However, Lee returned in 2015 with “Go Set a Watchman,” a type of sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird” that was presumed to be lost for many years.
It was received with mixed reviews, proving to be one of the most controversial issues in the modern literary world. Many readers were not pleased with the turn of events for the characters as they appeared in “Go Set a Watchman,” having formed strong attachments to the characters in the first novel.
On the popularity of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Lee modestly accepted her novel’s fate. “I never expected any sort of success with “To Kill a Mockingbird” I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected,” said Lee in an interview with Counterpoint magazine in 1964.
Lee was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville to Frances Cunningham and Amasa Coleman Lee. She was the youngest of the family and had two sisters and a brother. Lee discovered her love of literature during high school and after attending Huntingdon College and the University of Tuscaloosa, she moved to New York in 1949 as an airline reservation agent. Her love of writing became more than a hobby and she used her small- town Southern life as inspiration for her characters.
Lee never wanted to return to the spotlight or write another award winning novel, she is quoted as saying in a Daily Telegraph article that “I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.” Lee wrote about what she knew, on her own terms. Her contributions to the literary world, as well as the civil rights world, are her lasting legacy for past present and future readers.