It was a book of the times - and a book for all time. More than 50 years after "To Kill a Mockingbird" was first published, millions of Americans rank it as their favorite book.
That, no doubt, pleases Harper Lee more than anything that could possibly be said about her one and only novel. From childhood in Monroeville, Ala., she learned to love reading and books, a love shared by a childhood playmate who could not have been more different from Lee: Truman Capote.
Capote, who had Lee's research help on a magazine story that became his "In Cold Blood," became a flamboyant literary figure who basked in the attention of show business and in the parties of New York.
Lee, after winning the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and seeing her book made into one of the foremost films of all time, rarely made public appearances and became something of a recluse. Her last complete interview was 50 years ago.
It will always be so, says her publisher, despite the fact her long-lost book, "Go Set a Watchman," will be published this summer. Lee's lawyer found the book attached to a manuscript of "To Kill a Mockingbird" last fall.
Though written before "To Kill a Mockingbird," which was set in the 1930s, the new book is set in the 1950s and has the girl Scout coming home after living in New York City.
Though Lee, now 88, has been quoted in the past as saying that "To Kill a Mockingbird" included everything she had to say, she reportedly endorses the notion of publishing the new book. Some "To Kill a Mockingbird" lovers worry that "Go Set a Watchman" may be a less professional work, since "Mockingbird" went through considerable revision, critics note.
This much is certain: Harper Lee always will be regarded as a genius who captured the segregationist Deep South as few authors ever have.
Sadly, the plot of "To Kill a Mockingbird," exposing prejudice in a town and in the judicial system, is relevant even now. North Carolina is not the only Southern state where over many years district attorneys intentionally excluded blacks from some criminal juries. The state's now-repealed Racial Justice Act of 2009 attempted to provide death row inmates who could show race was a factor in their sentencing a chance to have their sentences commuted to life without parole.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" framed the issue of racial prejudice dramatically, but not without historic context, the 1931 case of the Scottsboro boys being the prime example. Harper Lee became a heroine to social activists and to lovers of literature - as she will remain, regardless of how the "plot" of the release of her new novel proceeds.