Harper Lee, author of the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” has died at the age of 89, according to the mayor of her hometown.
Born Nelle Harper Lee, the Pulitzer Prize winner is a native of Monroeville, Alabama, who lived in New York for decades. She moved back to Monroeville after suffering a stroke in 2007 and spent her final days in an assisted living facility, NBC News reports.
The office of Monroeville Mayor Mike Kennedy confirmed Lee’s death Friday but declined to comment further out of respect for her family. AL.com was the first to report Lee’s passing.
“She’s arguably one of the most important American novelists of the post-war period who has not published a great deal,” said Tom Lecky, Christie’s head of books and manuscripts, when six of Lee’s handwritten letters were set for auction over the summer.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is among the most beloved novels in history, with worldwide sales topping 40 million copies. It was released on July 11, 1960, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was adapted the following year into a movie of the same name, starring Gregory Peck in an Oscar-winning performance as the courageous attorney Atticus Finch.
Widely praised as a sensitive portrait of racial tension as seen through the eyes of a child in 1930s Alabama, it also has been criticized as sentimental and paternalistic.
Although occasionally banned over the years because of its language and racial themes, the novel has become a standard for reading clubs and middle schools and high schools.
Last year saw the publication of Lee’s recently discovered manuscript, “Go Set a Watchman,” described as a first draft of the story that evolved into “Mockingbird.” Critics and readers were startled to find the heroic Atticus of “Mockingbird” disparaging blacks and condemning the Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw segregation in public.
The 304-page book was Lee’s second, and the first new work in more than 50 years.