Nelle Harper Lee (born April 28, 1926) is an American novelist. She is best known for her 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which deals with the issues of racism that she observed as a child in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Despite being Lee's only published book, it led to her being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. Lee has received numerous honorary degrees but has always declined to make a speech.
Other significant contributions include assisting her close friend Truman Capote in his research for the book In Cold Blood.
Nelle Harper Lee, the youngest of five children of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch, was raised in Monroeville, Alabama. Her first name, Nelle, was her grandmother's name spelled backwards. Her mother was a homemaker; her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, practiced law and served in the Alabama State Legislature from 1926 to 1938. Before A.C. Lee became a title lawyer, he once defended two black men accused of murdering a white storekeeper. Both clients, a father and son, were hanged.
As a child, Lee was a tomboy, a precocious reader, and best friends with her schoolmate and neighbor, the young Truman Capote.
Like Lee, the tomboy Scout is the daughter of a respected small-town Alabama attorney. Scout's friend Dill was inspired by Lee's childhood friend and neighbor, Truman Capote; Lee, in turn, is the model for a character in Capote's first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Although the plot involves an unsuccessful legal defense similar to one undertaken by her attorney father, the 1931 landmark Scottsboro Boys interracial rape case may also have helped to shape Lee's social conscience.
While Lee has downplayed autobiographical parallels in the book, Truman Capote, mentioning the character Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, described details he considered biographical: "In my original version of Other Voices, Other Rooms I had that same man living in the house that used to leave things in the trees, and then I took that out. He was a real man, and he lived just down the road from us. We used to go and get those things out of the trees. Everything she wrote about it is absolutely true. But you see, I take the same thing and transfer it into some Gothic dream, done in an entirely different way."
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