On July 11, 1960, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee was published. Lee’s book about racial injustice in a small Alabama town went on to sell over 40 million copies. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was her only published book until the 2015 release of “Go Set a Watchman,” an earlier draft of her beloved American classic. A testament to its timeless message, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is coming to Broadway in a new adaptation by Aaron Sorkin this autumn.
After attending college at the University of Alamaba, Lee moved to New York City to become a writer in 1949. During the day she was a reservations clerk for Eastern Air Lines and British Overseas Airways Corporation. In the evenings, she worked on writing her book.
When she shared “Go Set a Watchman” with editors at J.B. Lippincott & Company, they saw potential and encouraged Lee to revise it. She wrote what became “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A week after publication, the novel rose to the top of the best-seller list and remained there for 88 weeks.
There are many parallels between Lee’s childhood and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The novel is set in the fictional small town of Maycomb, AL reminiscent of Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, AL. Told from the perspective of six-year-old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, modeled after Lee, her lawyer father, Atticus, defends a black man who has been accused of raping a white woman. The trial and surrounding events expose Scout and her older brother, Jem, to the evils of racism and stereotyping in the Jim Crow South.
When her book was released in 1960, America was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Lee’s ability to address racism in helped build empathy and understanding about a complex problem in the United States. As a result, Lee’s book has rightfully earned a permanent spot in America’s literary canon.