Born in Monroeville, Alabama, she studied law at the University of Alabama, then spent a year in the United Kingdom, studying at Oxford. Living in New York City, she supported herself working as an airline reservation clerk, but was soon determined to pursue a career in writing. She left her job and put together a series of short stories about life in the South, which she first submitted for publication in 1957. Encouraged by her editor, she worked the stories into a novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which was a critically acclaimed best-seller. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her work in 1961.
After the success of her book, Lee felt that if she wrote another it would be anticlimatic. Lee retired from writing.
She makes infrequent appearances and has received a number of honors, but little else is known of what she is doing, fueling speculation that she is working on various projects.