NEW YORK: Harper Lee, one of America’s most celebrated novelists whose masterpiece about racial injustice “To Kill a Mockingbird” was read by millions, has died, her publisher said on Friday. She was 89.
A spokeswoman for Harper Collins in New York said Lee passed away peacefully late on Thursday. The Pulitzer-winning author shunned the spotlight and spent her final years living in seclusion in Monroeville, Alabama, where she was born.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is considered one of the great classics of 20th century American literature, and is standard reading in classrooms across the world.
Published in 1960 and drawn from Lee’s own experiences as a child, it came to define racial injustice in the Depression-era South.
It tells the story of a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman and the courageous lawyer, Atticus Finch, who defies his community to defend him.
The novel sold 30 million copies and earned huge critical acclaim, winning Lee a Pulitzer prize in 1961 and thrusting her into an avalanche of publicity.
Her fame was sealed when the novel was adapted into a Hollywood film that won three Academy Awards in 1963, including an Oscar for Gregory Peck for his portrayal of Finch, one of the best-loved characters in American fiction.
Former US President George W. Bush, who awarded Lee the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civil honor in 2007, mourned the loss of “a legendary novelist and lovely lady.”
In Italy, native son and author Umberto Eco, a philosopher who wrote best-selling novels including “The Name of the Rose,” has died at 84, local media said on Saturday, quoting his family.
Eco, who had been suffering from cancer, passed away at his home late on Friday, La Repubblica said on its website.
“The world has lost one of the most important men in contemporary culture,” the daily said, while the Corriere della Sera said, “Umberto Eco, one of Italy’s most celebrated intellectuals, is dead.”
Eco was born on January 5, 1932, at Alessandria in the northern Italian region of Piedmont.
He leaves a wife, Renate Ramge Eco, a German art teacher whom he married in 1962 and with whom he had a son and a daughter.
His family name was reportedly an acronym of the Latin ex caelis oblatus, “a gift from the heavens,” which was given to his grandfather, a founding father, by a city official.
The young Umberto had a Roman Catholic upbringing, being educated at one of the Salesian institution’s schools.
His father was very keen for him to read law, but instead he took up medieval philosophy and literature at the University of Turin.
In the late 1950s, he started to develop ideas on semiotics—the study of signs, communicated either as spoken, written, scientific or artistic language.
“Books are not meant to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says, but what it means,” Eco said on his website.
Eco was appointed professor of semiotics at Bologna University in the 1970s and published a treatise laying out his theories.
His breakthrough, to a far wider audience, came in 1980 with the success of novel “The Name of the Rose,” which has since been translated into 43 languages and sold millions of copies.