Born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama, Nelle Harper Lee was the youngest of a family of four. Her father, A.C., was a lawyer and the inspiration for one of her most famous characters.
Her younger brother was her main playmate as her sisters were older, but a young boy named Truman Capote, later a famous author, was also her friend. Capote visited Monroeville during the summers.
She attended college for a few years but ultimately didn’t graduate with her degree. In 1949, she moved to New York City to work and make a career as a writer.
Lee found an agent and took time off to work on what became To Kill a Mockingbird. It was published in 1960 and became an immediate bestseller, earning her a Pulitzer Prize. Lee also worked on the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird.
She continued to live part-time in New York for decades near her friend Capote, whose career had taken off. The pair traveled to Kansas to research what became his book In Cold Blood.
Inspired by his true crime story, Harper Lee visited Alexander City, Alabama to write about the trial of a serial killer but the book was never published. She spent the following decades avoiding public attention.
In 2015, her original manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, was published as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. The following year, she died at a nursing home in Monroeville at the age of 89.
In addition to her Pulitzer Prize, Harper Lee has been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts, two of the highest civilian honors.
Harper Lee Landmarks in Alabama
Harper Lee grew up in Monroeville, a town of less than 10,000 in south Alabama. It’s now called the “Literary Capital of Alabama” for its ties to both Lee and Capote.
Outside, there’s a monument to the Atticus Finch character. The town also hosts an annual literary festival that brings in authors from Alabama and beyond.
Lee also attended Monroe County High School, which opened in 1912. The building she spent her years in is no longer there after it sustained fire damage.
Her childhood home was torn down decades ago but a marker on South Alabama Avenue memorializes it. She is buried at Hillcrest Cemetery in town, surrounded by family members’ plots. Fans of her work leave pennies on her headstone. You can find her grave by taking the second entrance and then the second left.
After attending Huntingdon College for a few years, Harper Lee transferred to the University of Alabama to study law. She wrote for the university newspaper but left before completing her degree.
But she later received an honorary doctorate from the school. The university also has a prize for legal fiction named in her honor.
Other Harper Lee Locations
Harper Lee spent a summer semester studying at Oxford University to study European civilization. Her father hoped it would inspire a return to her legal studies, but it didn’t. Instead, she came home and the University of Alabama.
New York City
After leaving school, Lee moved to New York City and took a few odd jobs, including working in a bookstore and as a travel agent. Her first apartment was demolished in 1967 but she continued to pay rent for her Upper East Side apartment until 2007. She reportedly visited Ottomanelli Bros. butcher shop daily for a cup of coffee and a pastry.