Five Fascinating Facts about Harper Lee

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

1. Harper Lee based the character of Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird on the boy who lived next door to her as a child. That boy was Truman Capote.

Harper Lee would later work as Truman Capote’s assistant on his novel In Cold Blood, and served as the model for one of the characters in Capote’s first novel, the 1948 work Other Voices, Other Rooms

2. Her first name wasn’t actually Harper.

‘Harper’ was Harper Lee’s middle name, and although it is the given name she used when publishing To Kill a Mockingbird, her first name is Nelle – her grandmother’s name, Ellen, reversed (she decided against using Nelle as her nom de plume because she was worried it would be misread as ‘Nellie’ – and ‘Nellie Lee’ doesn’t quite roll off the tongue).

3. The Beckhams’ daughter is named after Harper Lee.

In 2011, David and Victoria Beckham named their fourth child Harper Seven; the Harper is a homage to Harper Lee. David Beckham has revealed that To Kill a Mockingbird is Victoria Beckham’s favourite book.

Another child to be named after Lee is Harper Peck Voll, the Harper Lee 2grandson of the actor Gregory Peck; Peck became friends with Lee after he starred as Atticus Finch in the highly acclaimed 1962 film of To Kill a Mockingbird (Peck would win a Best Actor Oscar for his performance).

4. To Kill a Mockingbird was written when one of Lee’s friends bought her some time off work.

In 1956, Harper Lee’s friend Michael Brown and a number of other friends clubbed together and gave her a year’s wages for Christmas: ‘You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.’ She used the year off work to write To Kill a Mockingbird.

5. In 2015, 55 years after her first novel appeared, Harper Lee published her second novel.

In July 2015 – exactly 55 years to the month since To Kill a Mockingbird was published – Harper Lee’s second novel Go Set a Watchman was published. It was actually written before To Kill a Mockingbird, but like a number of Lee’s other writing projects to date, it was set aside for many years.

Because of Lee’s oft-stated conviction that she would not publish another novel, some have regarded the announcement of the book’s publication with suspicion.

Until now, Lee’s reputation has rested on her first and only novel, but it has done exceptionally well by itself: it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961 and has sold 40 million copies worldwide. In 2007 Lee was awarded the esteemed honour of the Presidential Medal of Freedom; in 2010, she was also awarded the National Medal of Arts.

If you’re looking for a nice edition of the novel, we recommend To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition.

Image: Nelle Harper Lee, c. 1962 (author unknown); Wikimedia Commons; public domain.


  1. Pingback: Five Fascinating Facts about Truman Capote | Interesting Literature

  2. Reblogged this on yllibsomar.

  3. Pingback: Scurte #354 | Assassin CG

  4. Pingback: Saturday Miscellany – 5/2/15 | The Irresponsible Reader

  5. I’ve ordered the book and should get it in July. Looking forward to it.

  6. One of my all time favourite books which I read when I was a young girl. The world described in the book seemed so strange to me at the time, as someone born and raised in the Caribbean. I’ve come to understand that world a lot better as an adult. Thanks for all the new facts I’ve learned in this post.

  7. Reblogged this on A Readmill of my mind and commented:
    Highly interesting facts about Harper Lee.

  8. Love it. Keep blogging like this please :)

  9. The last fact is the most important! I’m going mad waiting for this book!

  10. I am very much looking forward to Harper Lee’s second novel. I didn’t know about her name, though. That’s pretty interesting.

  11. An amazing post, I’ve recently started a Patreon campaign to help fund time to write. Although I hesitate to make the comparison, (I’m nowhere near Harper Lee) it is reassuring to know that such a writer struggled to find time to write and received help.