April 28, 1926
Nelle Harper Lee is born in Monroeville, Alabama, the youngest of four children of lawyer Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee.
Lee attends elementary school and high school just a few blocks from her house on Alabama Avenue. In an interview with Roy Newquist in a March 1964, Harper Lee offers this capsule view of her childhood: “I was born in a little town called Monroeville, Ala., on April 28, 1926. I went to school in the local grammar school, went to high school there, and then went to the University of Alabama. That’s about it, as far as education goes.”
Truman Streckfus Persons moves in next door to live with his elderly cousins, the Faulks. Truman and Nelle become fast friends.
Lee enters Huntingdon College, a Methodist liberal arts college.
Lee transfers to the University of Alabama to study law, but leaves in 1949 before completing her degree. While in college, she edits a humor magazine, Rammer-Jammer, and writes for the college newspaper, the Crimson-White.
She moves to New York, works as an airlines reservations clerk and pursues a writing career.
Lee submits her manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird to J.B. Lippincott Company in 1957. She is asked to rewrite the manuscript.
Lee travels with her childhood friend Truman Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, to help research a story he is writing about the murder of a wealthy farming family, the Clutters. Capote eventually turns the work into a non-fiction narrative book, In Cold Blood.
July 11, 1960
To Kill a Mockingbird is published by J.B. Lippincott Company. The book is an instant critical and commercial success, and the local bookseller in Monroeville quickly sells out her stock. Her book jacket photo is by her childhood friend Truman Capote.
Lee wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Art director Henry Bumstead comes to Monroeville to research the set design for the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird. He takes photographs and makes drawings of the town, houses and particularly the courtroom. He recreates, almost exactly, the Monroeville courtroom on a sound stage in Hollywood. He wins an Academy Award for his efforts.
Gregory Peck visits Monroeville to research his upcoming role as Atticus Finch in the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee gives Peck a tour of the town, introduces him to her family, and thus begins a lifelong friendship between the writer and film star.
December 25, 1962
The film adaptation of the novel, with Mary Badham as Scout, opens. The film is an instant hit. “I have nothing but gratitude for the people who made the film. … I was delighted, touched, happy, and exceedingly grateful,” Lee told Roy Newquist in a 1964 interview.
After the initial publicity for the novel, Lee has little contact with the press and makes few public appearances. However, in 1983, she makes a talk about one of her favorite topics – Alabama history – in Eufaula, Alabama, and signs books at a reception afterwards.
Harper Lee receives an honorary degree from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama — one of many honorary degrees over the years.
Chicago launches a campaign to get every adult in the city to read To Kill a Mockingbird at the same time in an effort to get people to read books (and talk to each other). Participants in this “One Book, One Chicago” project are given pins emblazoned with mockingbirds to help spot fellow readers around town. To Kill a Mockingbird continues to be a top pick with “One Book” reads in cities and towns across the nation.
Harper Lee is inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor. When asked to address the audience at the ceremony, Lee responds simply, “Well, it’s better to be silent than be a fool.”
The University of Alabama holds its first annual To Kill a Mockingbird Essay Contest for Alabama high school students. Lee attends many of the early award ceremonies, visits with students and signs their books. She poses for photos with the essay winners.
September 12, 2002
Staff writer Marja Mills publishes the first in-depth story on Lee in decades for the Chicago Tribune. Lee is photographed but declines to be quoted.
Harper Lee writes an essay in praise of developing a lifelong habit of reading for The Oprah Magazine: “My mother read me a story every day, usually a children’s classic, and my father read from the four newspapers he got through every evening.”
November 5, 2007
President George W. Bush presents Harper Lee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The White House press release explains, “At a critical moment in our history, her beautiful book, To Kill a Mockingbird, helped focus the nation on the turbulent struggle for equality.”
Lee attends a reading of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” presented by Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Neal and Joel Vig at the Old Courthouse Museum in Monroeville. It is her first visit to the museum and to the exhibit that chronicles her life.
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