Harper Lee, 'To Kill a Mockingbird' Author, Dies Aged 89

20/02/2016 4:42 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 05: Pulitzer Prize winner and 'To Kill A Mockingbird' author Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House November 5, 2007 in Washington, DC. The Medal of Freedom is given to those who have made remarkable contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, culture, or other private or public endeavors. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

She was a celebrated novelist -- best known for penning Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee has died at the age of 89.

She was loved not only for her best-seller, but as a writer who changed minds -- and people.

Lee's legacy lives on in the hearts of many Australians, from authors to young classmates who have grown through the writer's enduring tale of racial injustice in America's south in the 1930s.

Author Katerina Cosgrove recalls the first time she picked up To Kill A Mockingbird.

"When I first read it, like many, I remember being so affected by it. I think it was not only that sense of justice and bravery but also the compassion in the book that stayed with me," Cosgrove told The Huffington Post Australia.

"As a writer, those are the things that I am aiming for in my work."

harper lee author

Harper Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 to recognise her contribution to world peace and culture in the US.

But it has been in the classroom that Lee's work has had its most profound impact.

"When I was teaching writing at UTS, I would always start the first class of the first semester with an excerpt from the book to show students how beautifully she dealt with morality -- and with such a light touch," Cosgrove said.

Anthony Micallef, Headmaster of Brisbane Grammar School, described To Kill a Mockingbird as "the most significant novel of the past century".

"Its universal message resonates with all ages and gives readers a richer understanding of the significant role we all play in improving society," Micallef told HuffPost Australia.

"Lee's novel should be read by every young person. Its characters and themes have the capacity to shape out attitudes, values and perceptions."

For Benjamin Wilson, a pre-doctoral researcher at the Australian National University, To Kill a Mockingbird remains his favourite book to teach after years of teaching across Brisbane's public and private sectors.

"It is a very sad day for English teachers because of what she contributed to our curriculum," Wilson said. "Great books teach kids how to think. To Kill a Mockingbird teaches kids how to be."

The award-winning classic is a seminal text that focussed a critical lens on themes of racial injustice, as well as class and gender roles. For Wilson, it is one of few multi-layered texts that can be taught widely across school age groups.

harper lee

54 years following 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' Harper Lee released 'Go Set a Watchman' in June 2015.

Outside the classroom, Lee touched her readers in often profound ways. Melbourne mother Saurenne Deleuil describes how Lee's themes of injustice and humanity led her to pursue human rights work with the United Nations -- and to name her son after protagonist Atticus.

"It was the first name that came to us. It was a huge name for a tiny baby, but by the time he was born, it just felt right," she said.

Lee's death was being mourned by the world's most prolific authors, as well as celebrities and politicians.

John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska, recounted a story on Twitter about receiving a signed copy of his book from the notoriously media-shy author after the birth of his son.

Science fiction author Stephen King detailed Lee’s contribution to Truman Capote’s non-fiction crime classic In Cold Blood.

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