From The Guardian overnight. Pic of the reclusive author also from The Guardian.
Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by George Bush.
According to the citation the reclusive author has been honoured for "an outstanding contribution to America's literary tradition. At a critical moment in our history, her beautiful book, To Kill a Mockingbird, helped focus the nation on the turbulent struggle for equality."
Lee's 1960 classic tells the story of a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman
and is an indictment of racial prejudice. It is told from the perspective of a
young white girl, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, whose father, Atticus
Finch, is the lawyer defending the innocent man, Tom Robinson.
Lee set the story in the town of "Maycomb" in Alabama and drew on her own childhood
experiences in the South. While insisting that the novel is not
autobiographical, she has acknowledged that Scout is based on herself.
succeeded with To Kill A Mockingbird. The book was an instant bestseller and
won a Pulitzer prize. It was also made into a hit film starring Gregory Peck,
which quickly gained similar "classic" status to the book's.
Unnerved by the extent of critical and popular acclaim her book won, Lee then disappeared from public life, stopped giving interviews about 40 years ago and, other than a 1983
review of an Alabama history book, has published nothing of significance in
some four decades.
to light that for five years she had been quietly attending a ceremony at the
University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for a high school essay-writing contest
based on her work. She granted a single interview to the New York Times,
speaking only about the students and the essay-writing contest. The picture
that emerged of the author from the interview was of a lively and quick-witted
old woman who was happy to chat to the students, sign autographs and pose for
While To Kill a Mockingbird is taught in more than 70% of schools in the US, the book's popularity is not restricted to the States. Last year the book topped a World Book Day poll
conducted by the UK's Museum, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), in which
librarians around the country were asked, "Which book should every adult
read before they die?"
civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks; and former House Foreign Affairs committee
chairman Henry Hyde.
Kennedy in 1963 to honor distinguished service. It is given to those deemed to
have made remarkable contributions to the security or national interests of
the United States, world peace, culture, or other private or public endeavors.