Background and publication
Harper Lee was born in 1926 and grew up in the Southern town of Monroeville, Alabama. There, she became close friends with Truman Capote, who became a famous writer later. She went to Huntingdon College in Montgomery (1944–45), and then studied law at the University of Alabama (1945–49). When she went to college, she wrote for literary magazines, like Huntress and Rammer Jammer. At both colleges, she wrote short stories and other works about racial unfairness, which was not usually written about in colleges at the time. In 1950, Lee moved to New York City, where she worked as a clerk for British Overseas Airways Corporation. While she was there, she began writing essays and short stories about people in Monroeville. In 1957, Lee showed her writing to a
literary agent whom Capote had told her about. An editor at
J.B. Lippincott suggested to her that she should stop working at the airline and focus on writing instead. Her friends gave her money to help her continue writing for a year.
Lee spent two and a half years writing To Kill a Mockingbird. The National Endowment for the Arts describes how Lee once became so unhappy that she threw her manuscript out the window into the snow. Her agent made her take her writing back again. The book was printed on July 11, 1960. It was first titled Atticus, but Lee changed its name because the story was more than simply about one character. The editors at Lippincott told Lee that she would probably sell only several thousand copies. In 1964, Lee said, "I never expected any sort of success with 'Mockingbird.' ... I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected." Instead of a "quick and merciful death",
Reader's Digest Condensed Books chose part of the book to be printed again. This immediately made many more people read it. After it was first published, the book never stopped being printed.