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Harper Lee, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," dead at 89

Last Updated Feb 19, 2016 2:28 PM EST

Nelle Harper Lee, of "To Kill a Mockingbird" fame, has died at 89 in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, a Monroeville City Hall clerk confirmed to CBS News. Her publisher, HarperCollins, also confirmed the death.

The author, who used Harper Lee as a pen name, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961 for "To Kill a Mockingbird," which was based on her childhood. The novel addressed racial injustice in the South as it followed the story of Scout, the protagonist, and her father, Atticus Finch, a lawyer who defends a falsely accused black man of rape in 1930s Alabama.

The book became an American classic, selling more than 40 million copies worldwide since its publication.

Lee published her second book, "Go Set a Watchman," in 2015, which was told from the perspective of Scout 20 years later. She wrote it before "To Kill a Mockingbird" while living in New York in the 1950s; after she submitted it to a publisher in 1957, she was told to rewrite it with a younger Scout. "Watchman" sold more than 1.1 million copies in less than a week. Publisher Harper Collins said it was the fastest-selling book in history.

Lee was born on April 28, 1926 and grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, as the youngest of four children of lawyer and politician Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee. She later studied law at the University of Alabama, but did not complete her degree.

In 1949, Lee moved to New York to pursue writing, and worked as an airline reservations clerk as her day job. She submitted her first manuscript, which would eventually become "Go Set a Watchman," eight years later to J.B. Lippincott & Co (the publisher was later acquired by Harper & Row, which eventually became HarperCollins).

The book was adapted into a 1962 film starring Gregory Peck. The highly-acclaimed movie won three Oscars.

Though Lee used to her time between New York and Alabama, she moved to Monroeville full time after she suffered a stroke in 2007.


Lee used to split time between New York and Alabama but has lived full-time in Monroeville, halfway between Montgomery and Mobile, since suffering a stroke in 2007. The famously publicity-shy author was nearly blind and deaf, living at an assisted living center in the town.

In a statement, Michael Morrison, President and Publisher of HarperCollins US General Books Group and Canada said, "The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don't know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to- in private- surrounded by books and the people who loved her. I will always cherish the time I spent with her."

Her agent, Andrew Nurnberg said in a statement, "Knowing Nelle these past few years has been not just an utter delight but an extraordinary privilege. When I saw her just six weeks ago, she was full of life, her mind and mischievous wit as sharp as ever. She was quoting Thomas More and setting me straight on Tudor history. We have lost a great writer, a great friend and a beacon of integrity."

Jessica Lacher-Feldman, head of LSU Libraries Special Collections, worked as a handler for Lee during literary events and said, "It's the end of an era and she is such an icon and of course I'm upset and sad about it. ... I think my fondest memory is having the opportunity to have met her on multiple occasions and see her not so much as an icon but as a very warm and frank woman. She was very natural and very real and just having that chance to talk to her and work with her."

Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who was released in January from an Iranian prison after he was charged with espionage and other serious crimes, said on Twitter that "To Kill a Mockingbird" helped him get through his trial.

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    Andrea is an entertainment producer at CBSNews.com