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Why was Harper Lee away from the limelight?

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Today is the second death anniversary of the author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Harper Lee.  She is one of the most beloved American writers who won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel.  Her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird is what build her career as a writer.  It became an instant best seller and a blockbuster movie starring Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch, the noble lawyer who defends a black man accused of rape was also made out of it.  It piled up numerous awards including the Academy Award for the best actor.  The mysterious fact to date is why did she publish just two novels?  Her second one being ‘Go Set a Watchman’ that was not published till 2015.


After her first novel was published, Lee took a backseat from the public but her novel continued to earn her money after every passing year.  More than half a century later, the book continued to sell over 750,000 copies since its first publication.

One would probably come to the conclusion that with a novel that sold millions every year, why would anyone want to go through the ordeal of getting more published? Yet again, Lee wasn’t entirely away from the spotlight.  Although not much has been spoken of her, ones close to her never mentioned her to be an introvert.  She often humbly refused to talk to the media since 1964 and that isn’t the same as being away from social connections.

She is said to have told that she wishes to be the Jane Austen of south Alabama.  She along with her childhood next door neighbour, Capote worked together on Capote’s 1966 ‘true crime’ book ‘In Cold Blood’, but things didn’t work out as planned.  No one really knows the exact reasons. It is speculated that Lee was hurt by Capote’s failure to give her full credit for her research.

In 2011, one of her friends quoted her to mention two reasons as to why she avoided publishing anymore. “One, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”

A scene from the movie To Kill a Mockingbird

She describes her reaction to the success to her first novel as “one of sheer numbness”.  In an interview conducted in 1964 she said “It was like being hit over the head and knocked cold.  You see, I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I hoped for a little but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”

Harper Lee made occasional public appearances later and accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House in 2007, however she has not obliged for an interview since 1964.

President Bush, left, presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author Harper Lee, center, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington. 


Lee has succeeded in leading a life according to her desires and protecting herself from the limelight. In a rare statement in a letter to Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, she mentioned how out-of-touch with modern life she has become and in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms she mentions still  plodding along with books.




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Sharika Nair

Uncrowned Queen of certified PJs. Positive thinker. Writer . Author. Marathon Runner. Brand Marketing expert.

About the Author

Sharika Nair

Uncrowned Queen of certified PJs. Positive thinker. Writer . Author. Marathon Runner. Brand Marketing expert.

Read more from Sharika