INTERNATIONAL

A literary Garbo who detested fame

Harper Lee, whose first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird , about racial injustice in a small Alabama town, sold more than 10 million copies and became one of the most beloved and most taught works of fiction ever written by an American, has died. She was 89.

Her death was confirmed by HarperCollins, her publisher.

The instant success of To Kill a Mockingbird , which was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the next year, turned Ms. Lee into a literary celebrity, a role she found oppressive and never learned to accept.

The enormous success of the film version of the novel, released in 1962 with Gregory Peck in the starring role of Atticus Finch, a small-town Southern lawyer who defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, only added to Ms. Lee’s fame and fanned expectations for her next novel. For more than half a century, it failed to appear. Then, in 2015, long after the reading public had given up on seeing anything more from Ms. Lee, a sequel appeared under mysterious circumstances.

“I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird ,” Ms. Lee told a radio interviewer in 1964.

Ms. Lee gained a reputation as a literary Garbo, a recluse whose public appearances to accept an award or an honorary degree counted as important news simply because of their rarity. On such occasions she did not speak, other than to say a brief thank you.

In February 2015, her publisher, Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, dropped a bombshell. It announced plans to publish a manuscript, long thought to be lost, that Ms. Lee submitted to her editors in 1957 under the title Go Set a Watchman .

Ms. Lee’s lawyer, Tonja B. Carter, had chanced upon it, attached to an original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird , while looking through Ms. Lee’s papers, the publishers explained. It told the story of Atticus and Scout 20 years later, when Scout is a young woman living in New York, and included several scenes in which Atticus expresses conservative views on race relations seemingly at odds with his liberal stance in the earlier novel.



Nelle Harper Lee was born in the poky little town of Monroeville, in southern Alabama, the youngest of four children. “Nelle” was a backward spelling of her maternal grandmother’s first name, and Ms. Lee dropped it when To Kill a Mockingbird was published, out of fear that readers would pronounce it Nellie, which she hated. — New York Times News Service