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Author Harper Lee has died at the age of 89, a source confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter.
The To Kill a Mockingbird author was a resident at the Meadows, an assisted living facility, in her hometown Monroeville in Alabama. According to her publisher, Lee “died peacefully.” No further details were immediately available.
“Knowing Nelle these past few years has been not just an utter delight but an extraordinary privilege,” her agent, Andrew Nurnberg said in a statement. “When I saw her just six weeks ago, she was full of life, her mind and mischievous wit as sharp as ever. She was quoting Thomas More and setting me straight on Tudor history. We have lost a great writer, a great friend and a beacon of integrity.”
The author published only one novel until Go Set a Watchman was released last July by HarperCollins. Lee was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
“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,” HarperCollins publisher Michael Morrison stated. “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.”
Mockingbird, a landmark novel bringing to life the Southern lawyer Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout, was published in July, 1960. Set in the 1930’s, Finch is tasked with defending an African-American man, Tom Robinson, accused of rape.
“Lee writes with gentle affection, rich humor and deep understanding of small-town family life in Alabama,” a 1960 book review from The New York Times read, adding: “Movie-going readers will be able to cast most of the roles very quickly, but it is no disparagement of Miss Lee’s winning book to say that it could be the basis of an excellent film.”
Gregory Peck portrayed Finch and Brock Peters played Robinson in the Robert Mulligan-directed 1962 film, which claimed eight nominations at 35th Academy Awards and nabbed three wins.
“Harper Lee was a fine person and a wonderful writer,” Robert Duvall, who portrayed Boo Radley in the film, told THR. “To Kill a Mockingbird was a masterpiece. I was privileged to be in the film version adapted to the screen by her good friend Horton Foote. I only hope that the film did justice to the book. She will be fondly remember by many.”
Duvall recalled: “I remember when I started production Harper Lee sent me a telegram that simply said ‘Hey, Boo.’ I was so proud to be a part of that film.”
“Very sorry to hear this news,” stated actress Mary Badham, who played Scout in the film. “Obviously TKAM has been a big part of my life. Even though Miss Nelle is no longer with us, her insight into the human conditions so eloquently expressed in her writing will live on and continue to educate and inspire future generations as much as it has for over half a century. I will continue to be a champion for TKAM and its themes as I travel to to schools, colleges, Big Read events and other celebrations of one of our great works of American literature.”
Lee has famously avoided giving interviews in recent decades about her work even as it became required reading for generations of students.
“Her friendship was a gift to me, as were her stories, which I was honored to share with readers,” stated Marja Mills, who wrote a memoir about her friendship with the author. “Some of my happiest memories are hearing her infectious laugh wash across a room. Her wit was one of the essential ways she experienced the world, and it was a joy to spend time with her.”
Last year’s Go Set a Watchman, originally written by Lee prior to Mockingbird, saw a revision of the Finch character in a storyline set two decades after the events of the first book.
The Times, the first to review the new title, noted in its surprised appraisal last year that now “Atticus is a racist,” sparking a critical reevaluation of one of the most praised characters in American literature.
Due to enormous interest (and controversy), the title sold more than 1 million copies in its first weeks at booksellers.
Mockingbird will once again be revived, this time for the stage for the 2017-2018 Broadway season, with Social Network and West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin penning the adaptation.
“Like millions of others, I was saddened to learn this morning of the passing of Harper Lee, one of America’s most beloved authors. I’m honored to have the opportunity to adapt her seminal novel for the stage,” stated Sorkin.
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