Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016. She was an American novelist best known for her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has become a classic of modern American literature. Lee published only two books, yet she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 for her contribution to literature. She also received numerous honorary degrees, though she declined to speak on those occasions. She assisted her close friend Truman Capote in his research for the book In Cold Blood (1966). Capote was the basis for the character Dill Harris in To Kill a Mockingbird.
While enrolled at Monroe County High School, Lee developed an interest in English literature, in part because teacher Gladys Watson became her mentor. After graduating from high school in 1944, like her eldest sister Alice Finch Lee, Nelle attended the then all-female Huntingdon College in Montgomery for a year, then transferred to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where she studied law for several years.
Nelle Lee also wrote for the university newspaper and a humor magazine, but to her father's great disappointment, left one semester before completing the credit hours necessary for a degree. In the summer of 1948, Lee attended a summer school in European civilization at Oxford University in England, financed by her father, who hoped in vain, as it turned out that the experience would make her more interested in her legal studies in Tuscaloosa.
Like many unpublished authors, Lee was unsure of her talents. "I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told," Lee said in a statement in 2015 about the evolution from Watchman to Mockingbird. later described the process in Lippincott's corporate history: "After a couple of false starts, the story-line, interplay of characters, and fall of emphasis grew clearer, and with each revision there were many minor changes as the story grew in strength and in her own vision of it—the true stature of the novel became evident.
(In 1978, Lippincott was acquired by Harper & Row, which became HarperCollins which published Watchman in 2015.) Hoof described the give and take between author and editor: "When she disagreed with a suggestion, we talked it out, sometimes for hours" And sometimes she came around to my way of thinking, sometimes I to hers, sometimes the discussion would open up an entirely new line of country."