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'To Kill a Mockingbird' Author Harper Lee Dead at 89

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Author Harper Lee Dead at 89

Harper Lee, the author of the American classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” has died. She was 89.

In a statement to CNN, Lee's family said, "The family of Nelle Harper Lee, of Monroeville, Alabama, announced today, with great sadness, that Ms. Lee passed away in her sleep early this morning. Her passing was unexpected. She remained in good basic health until her passing. The family is in mourning and there will be a private funeral service in the upcoming days, as she had requested.”

Her nephew Hank Conner added, "This is a sad day for our family. America and the world knew Harper Lee as one of the last century's most beloved authors. We knew her as Nelle Harper Lee, a loving member of our family, a devoted friend to the many good people who touched her life, and a generous soul in our community and our state. We will miss her dearly.”

HarperCollins president and publisher Michael Morrison also released a statement, saying, "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.”

Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a novel centered on justice and race in the South during the Great Depression. The story follows the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, and the efforts of his lawyer Atticus Finch to exonerate him.

The story was adapted for the big screen in 1962, and Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his performance as Finch.

In 2015, HarperCollins published Lee’s novel “Go Set a Watchman,” marketed as a sequel to “Mockingbird,” but which was actually written prior to that book. “Watchman,” set 20 years after “Mockingbird,” was met with heavy criticism.