TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee missed her induction as an inaugural member of the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame on Monday just weeks before the release of her second book.
Organizers said the 89-year-old Lee couldn’t attend the event, held on the University of Alabama campus.
There was no other explanation for Lee’s absence, but she only rarely makes public appearances. The author is in declining health and lives in an assisted-living home 150 miles away in the south Alabama town of Monroeville.
“We are so sorry she couldn’t make it,” said Jeanie Thompson, executive director of the Alabama Writer’s Forum, a sponsor of the event.
Lee and 11 other Alabama writers were honored as the hall’s first class. Relatives and friends filled two banquet tables set aside for Lee’s party, but organizers said members of the writer’s family declined to speak to reporters.
Lee’s second book, “Go Set a Watchman,” is being released in July. It was written before the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Mockingbird” but takes place 20 years later.
Lee’s agreement to release the book stunned the literary world. “Watchman,” set for release July 14, has been ranked No. 1 in new releases on Amazon.com for weeks.
Five of the inductees are still living. Aside from Lee they include Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author Rick Bragg; poets Sonia Sanchez and Andrew Glaze; and novelist Sena Jeter Naslund.
Bragg, the past winner of an award named for Lee, said he was honored to be included in the group.
“I’m in pretty high cotton,” said Bragg.
The seven posthumous inductees include antebellum humorist Johnson Jones Hooper; 19th century novelist Augusta Jane Evans Wilson; writer and activist Helen Keller; Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston; novelist and short-story writer William March; critic and novelist Albert Murray; and Helen Norris Bell, a playwright, poet and novelist.