Nelle Harper Lee (April 28, 1926 – February 19, 2016) was an American novelist widely known for To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. Immediately successful, it won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has become a classic of modern American literature. Though Lee had only published this single book, in 2007 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature. Additionally, Lee received numerous honorary degrees, though she declined to speak on those occasions. She was also known for assisting her close friend Truman Capote in his research for the book In Cold Blood (1966). Capote was the basis for the character Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird.
The plot and characters of To Kill a Mockingbird are loosely based on Lee's observations of her family and neighbors, as well as an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old. The novel deals with the irrationality of adult attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s, as depicted through the eyes of two children. The novel was inspired by racist attitudes in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
Another novel, Go Set a Watchman, was written in the mid-1950s and published in July 2015 as a "sequel", though it was later confirmed to be To Kill a Mockingbird's first draft.
One can appreciate this film without having read the original novel, but for the purposes of our class discussion, I encourage people to do so. It's always interesting to compare and contrast a book with its cinematic version.