Remembering Harper Lee

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FILE – In this Aug. 20, 2007, file photo, author Harper Lee smiles during a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. Lee, elusive author of best-seller “To Kill a Mockingbird,” died Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, according to her publisher, Harper Collins. She was 89. (AP Photo/Rob Carr, File)

Nicole Schroeder

In this Aug. 20, 2007, file photo, author Harper Lee smiles during a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. Lee, elusive author of best-seller “To Kill a Mockingbird,” died Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, according to her publisher, Harper Collins. She was 89. 
Acclaimed author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee, passed away today in her sleep at the age of 89. Lee’s family announced this morning that the author died in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, and was in good health until her passing.
The news of Lee’s death came as a shock to Lee’s family and the rest of the literary world, and many mourn the sudden loss of the influential author. Senior Sydney Maly, who read To Kill A Mockingbird in seventh grade, said the powerful message in her work resonated with many readers, particularly in the timeless messages of racism and discrimination in the South.
“I remember it sparked my interest in that … I could talk to my mom about it and talk to my dad and everyone knew what the book was, and so I liked conversing with them about it,” Maly said. “It was very influential to me at the time and really sparked my interest in reading.”
Maly wasn’t the only one touched by the message in Lee’s first novel. AP Literature and Composition teacher Deborah McDonough said the book has been her favorite since she first read it in her junior year of high school. Lee’s eloquence as an author, she said, altered many lives besides her own.
“While I am very sad to hear about her passing, [Lee’s] voice and artistry lives on in the wonderful characters she created for her novel,” McDonough said. “I think I am just as sad as I was when Gregory Peck [the actor who played Atticus Finch in the movie adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird] died several years ago. I distinctly remember when I was teaching in Massachusetts, a student came rushing into my room one morning and declared, ‘Ms. McDonough, Atticus Finch died.’”
McDonough, who had been reading about Lee recently because of the publication of her second novel and sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, titled Go Set A Watchman, said she certainly understood the writer’s importance in society and, more specifically, to other writers.
“Lee’s novel influenced writers all over the world,” McDonough said. “The greatest significance of the novel, at least in my view, is the simplicity with which she presented the complicated issue of racism in the South.”
For senior Allie Rogers, Lee’s work was just as influential because of the writer’s willingness to “speak the truth” and encourage people to form their own opinions about the important issues they face in everyday life.  Such a message, Rogers said, is uniting, and is part of the reason that Lee will be so remembered by her readers.
“She has influenced a generation of readers worldwide. I think the book offered a vision of a bright, less hate-filled world,” Rogers said. “Her work brings different Americans from all different backgrounds together due to our shared ideals.”
All in all, Rogers said Lee’s amazing talent as a writer is what made her books so significant at the time of their release, and what continues to make them so relevant in each new generation of readers.
“In a literary sense, Lee develops a work that quite effectively addresses discrimination and provides a moral stance that questions readers if we would have the same ethical stance and revolutionizing power that Atticus Finch presented,” Rogers said. “I think one can draw deep connections with each character just because of how well Lee does with developing them, and she keeps you hooked on them throughout the whole book.”
As for Lee’s legacy, McDonough said the author will undoubtedly be remembered for her gift with language and her ability to shed light on significant topics still discussed today.
“Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird revealed the atrocities of racism in the early 1920s through the innocent eyes of three children: Scout, Jem, and Dill.  It is sometimes through innocence that we truly come to an understanding about what seems to be the most complicated issues,” McDonough said. “Her novel also revealed the courage it takes to stand against racism through her character, Atticus Finch.  The relevance of the novel remains, even today.  It will always be my favorite novel.”
Have you read any of Harper Lee’s books? What kind of influence do you believe her works had on her readers? Leave a comment below.