The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, died in her sleep Thursday night at the age of 89. Lee had been staying at an assisted-living facility called the Meadows in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.

Born in 1926, Lee was 34 years old when To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, becoming an instant hit that only grew in stature two years later when the film adaptation, starring Gregory Peck, was released. The success of the book came as a surprise to Lee, who never quite grew comfortable with her new stardom.

Though many had anticipated a follow-up work, she did not publish anything until last year's Go Set a Watchman, a sort-of sequel that used most of the same characters. It received mixed reviews, and many readers and fans doubted if Lee, who did not speak publicly about the book, had actually meant for the manuscript her agent discovered to be published at all.

Harper Lee receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In 2007 Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush, one of the infrequent public appearances she made. President Bush called To Kill a Mockingbird "a gift to the entire world." The book, a tale of Southern racism told through the eyes of 9-year-old Scout Finch, sold more than 30 million copies and remains one of the most-taught books in schools across the country.

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