(New York Post)
Few writers — certainly none known mainly for a single work of fiction — have sparked a massive outpouring of grief and affection like that heard across the nation Friday.
But Nelle Harper Lee wasn’t your average writer. And “To Kill a Mockingbird” was not just another novel.
Lee, who died in her sleep at the age of 89, wrote a book that — more than a half-century later — remains one of the most beloved and inspiring works ever.
The simple tale of life in a small southern Alabama town in the 1930s — which turns into an explosive drama about race, rape and a young girl’s pain as she watches her lawyer dad fight a righteous battle he can’t hope to win — has sold 40 million copies since 1960, won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into a memorable film.
Lee based the book’s hero, Atticus Finch, on her own father; its narrator, Scout, on herself and many of the other characters on her neighbors in tiny Monroeville, Ala.
But she was also a New Yorker, dividing her time between Manhattan and Monroeville from 1949 until ill health forced her to move to an assisted-living facility.
In fact, it was a New York couple who gave her the gift of a year’s income so she could complete without distraction the work that became her magnum opus.
An instant best-seller, the book brought her fame with which she eventually grew uncomfortable — even as “Mockingbird” won ever-widening acclaim.
It remains one of the most widely taught pieces of literature in American schools. Indeed, few books have had — and continue to have — the lasting impact on generations of readers as “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
In presenting Lee with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, President George W. Bush called her book “a gift to the entire world” that “has influenced the character of our country for the better.” RIP.