Harper Lee, who wrote one of America's most enduring literary classics, "To Kill a Mockingbird," about a child's view of right and wrong, and waited 55 years to publish a second book with the same characters from a very different point of view, has died at the age of 89.
For decades it was thought she would never follow up "To Kill a Mockingbird," so the July 2015 publication of "Go Set a Watchman" was a surprising literary event — as well as a shock for devotees of "Mockingbird."
In the first book, Atticus Finch is the adored father of the young narrator, Scout, and a lawyer who nobly but unsuccessfully defends a black man unjustly accused of raping a white woman. In "Watchman," an older Atticus has racial views that leave the grown-up Scout greatly disillusioned.
Lee reportedly wrote "Go Set a Watchman" first but, at the suggestion of a wise editor, set it aside to tell a tale of race in the South from the child's point of view in the 1930s.
For many years, Lee, a shy woman with an engaging Southern drawl, lived quietly and privately, always turning down interview requests. She alternated between living in a New York apartment and Monroeville, Alabama, where she shared a home with her older sister, lawyer Alice Lee. After suffering a stroke and enduring failing vision and hearing, Harper Lee spent her final years in an assisted-living facility in Monroeville.
Harper Lee's state of mind became an issue when plans were announced in 2015 to publish "Go Set a Watchman." Some of her friends said that after the 2014 death of Alice Lee, who handled her sister's affairs, lawyer Tonja Carter manipulated Harper Lee into approving the publication of "Watchman."
Carter had said she came across the "Watchman" manuscript while doing legal work for Lee in 2014, and an investigation by Alabama officials found there was no coercion in getting Lee's permission to publish.
Lee's literary output was a matter of speculation for decades before "Go Set a Watchman." She acknowledged she could not top the Pulitzer Prize–winning "Mockingbird," but friends said she worked for years on at least two other books before abandoning them. A family friend, the Rev. Thomas Lane Butts, told an Australian interviewer that she said she did not publish again because she did want to endure the pressure and publicity of another book and because she had said all that she wanted to say.