'To Kill a Mockingbird' author Harper Lee dies at the age of 89

The Takeaway
harper lee

President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Harper Lee in 2007.

Larry Downing/Reuters

Harper Lee, author of the famed American novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," has died at the age of 89 in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

In 1961, "To Kill A Mockingbird" won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The story of Scout, her father Atticus Finch, and the struggle for racial justice in the American South has become one of the nation's most beloved novels.

Until last year, "To Kill A Mockingbird" was the only work Lee, who was born in 1926, ever published. Last winter, the publishing world was sent into a cataclysmic fit over news that the author would be publishing a companion work to her much beloved novel.

Released 55 years after "To Kill A Mockingbird," the new story — "Go Set a Watchman" — follows a grown-up Scout (who goes by the name Jean-Louise) as she returns home to Maycomb, Alabama, from New York. Back in the South, she finds her hometown — and the people she loves in it — nearly unrecognizable.

In "To Kill A Mockingbird," Atticus Finch was a strong, noble literary character, who, as a lawyer, defended a black man accused of rape. In "Go Set a Watchman," it's Atticus who is on trial — with American readers judging his newly unearthed racism.

This story first aired as an interview on PRI's The Takeaway, a public radio program that invites you to be part of the American conversation.