What was Harper Lee's Net Worth?
Harper Lee was an American novelist who had a net worth of $35 million at the time of her death in February 2016. Harper Lee was best known as the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," which was later made into a film starring Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall. To Kill a Mockingbird dealt with the issues of racism that Lee observed as a child in her hometown in Alabama. Despite being Lee's only published book for the majority of her life, it led to her being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. Her only other published novel was "Go Set a Watchman," written before "Mockingbird" but not released until the summer of 2015. Among her other well-known activities, Lee was a close friend and assistant to author Truman Capote, aiding in the research of his landmark non-fiction true crime novel "In Cold Blood."
Early Life and Education
Harper Lee was born as Nelle Harper Lee on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama as the youngest of four children of Frances, a homemaker, and Amasa, a former businessman, lawyer, and newspaper editor who served in the Alabama State Legislature from 1926 to 1938. Through her father, she was a descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Her sisters were Alice, Louise, and Edwin. Growing up, Lee befriended a young Truman Capote, who came to Monroeville to visit family during the summers.
Lee was educated at Monroe County High School, where she cultivated her passion for English literature. After graduating in 1944, she attended Huntingdon College in Montgomery for a year, and then transferred to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Lee ultimately dropped out of college one semester short of earning her degree. She went on to attend a summer school program at Oxford University in England financed by her disappointed father.
In 1949, Harper moved to New York City to follow her dreams of becoming a writer. She struggled for several years, working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines and for the British Overseas Air Corp (BOAC). While in the city, Lee was reunited with old friend Truman Capote, one of the literary rising stars of the time. She also befriended Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown and his wife Joy and eventually moved in with the couple.
Life-Changing Christmas Gift
In 1956, the Browns gave Harper Lee an impressive Christmas present. They agreed to support her financially for a year so she could quit her job and write full time. Harper ended up using her time to write a novel about her childhood in Alabama. The Browns also helped Harper find an agent who got a publishing firm interested in her novel, which was initially entitled "Go Set a Watchman", then "Atticus" and finally "To Kill a Mockingbird". During this time, Lee also helped her close friend Truman Capote do research for his book "In Cold Blood".
To Kill a Mockingbird
In 1957, Lee delivered her manuscript for "Go Set a Watchman" to Crain. He sent it out to publishers, and it was eventually purchased by J. B. Lippincott Company, where it fell into the hands of editor Tay Hohoff. Although Hohoff was impressed, she didn't think it was quite ready for publication. She subsequently led Lee through various drafts before the book reached its finished form under the title "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Told through the eyes of two children growing up in the Deep South of the 1930s and dealing with themes of race and class, the book was loosely based on Lee's own observations of her family and neighborhood. An instant bestseller upon its release in the summer of 1960, "To Kill a Mockingbird" went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the next year. It was then adapted into a 1962 film written by Horton Foote and directed by Robert Mulligan, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Just like the book, the film was a huge hit, and won three Academy Awards.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of the most important and perennially-successful books in American history. As of this writing, it has sold over 40 million copies worldwide and has been reprinted in 40 languages. Even 50 years later, the book sells approximately 1 million copies per year.
According to legal filings made during a 2013 lawsuit Harper filed against her former book agent, at that point Harper Lee was regularly earning around $3.2 million per year in royalties from her book. That worked out to around $9,200 in royalties every single day. All from something she wrote more than 50 years ago at that point!
Relationship with Truman Capote
Having met as children, Lee and Capote remained lifelong friends. In Capote's first novel, 1948's semi-autobiographical "Other Voices, Other Rooms," Lee served as the model for one of the characters. Lee also helped Capote more directly with his work, most famously assisting him in the research for his landmark true crime novel "In Cold Blood," which was published in 1966. As Capote began pursuing a more decadent celebrity lifestyle, Lee grew progressively more distanced from him, as she preferred to live quietly and anonymously.
Go Set a Watchman
Upon reexamining Lee's safe-deposit box in 2014, the author's lawyer Tonja Carter found the original manuscript for "Go Set a Watchman." Eventually, Carter passed it on to Lee's agent Andrew Numberg. The book was finally released in the summer of 2015 as a sequel to "To Kill a Mockingbird." Controversy met the release of the book, as it was sold to the public as a completely separate work by Lee despite the fact that it was originally written as a first draft of "To Kill a Mockingbird." Moreover, there was concern over whether Lee was competent enough in 2015 to consent to the book's publishing, considering she was suffering from memory loss and her hearing and eyesight were significantly impaired.
Honors and Awards
Lee was the recipient of numerous honors and awards following the success of "To Kill a Mockingbird." In early 1966, she was appointed to the National Council on the Arts by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Later in her life, she was given such accolades as the Los Angeles Public Library Literary Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Medal of Arts. Lee also earned an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame and was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor.
Death and Legacy
In February of 2016, Lee passed away in her sleep at the age of 89.
Lee's legacy lives on in the continued eminence of "To Kill a Mockingbird," which has been cemented in the literary canon as an American classic taught in schools throughout the country. Meanwhile, in the movies, Lee was portrayed by Sandra Bullock in "Infamous" and by an Academy Award-nominated Catherine Keener in "Capote." Her legacy also involves the Harper Lee Award, an annual honor bestowed upon a distinguished writer who was either born or grew up in Alabama.