Reclusive author Harper Lee is set for a rare moment in the spotlight next week after being announced Monday as one of this year's recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Author Harper Lee, shown in August during a ceremony honouring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor at the Capitol in Montgomery, will be receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom next month. ((Rob Carr/Associated Press))

Lee, the celebrated author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be among those honoured by U.S. President George W.Bush at a ceremony at the White House on Nov. 5, officials announced.

Leewrote just one book — the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mockingbird — but has become one of the most beloved living U.S. authors, with the title often cited among the favourite books of American readers.

Over the years, she has occasionally written letters or essays for magazines, most recently a reminiscence for O, The Oprah Magazine about learning to read in Depression-era Alabama.

She also generally refrains from giving interviews, but does make appearances at schools to meet studentsand occasionally around her hometown of Monroeville, Ala.

This year's other recipients of the highest civilian honour in the U.S. include:

  • Former Nobel economic laureate Gary Becker.
  • Civil rights leader and former NAACP executive Benjamin Hooks.
  • TV executive and C-SPAN chief Brian Lamb.
  • Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman elected to preside over an African nation.
  • Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Research Institute.
  • Cuban human rights activist Oscar Elias Biscet, currently imprisoned in Havana.
  • Illinois Republican politician Henry Hyde, known for his battles against abortion rights and as lead prosecutor in the impeachment trial of former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

Originally established to recognize the efforts of citizens after the Second World War, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom was reinstated in 1963 to honour distinguished service and an individual's "meritorious contribution" to the security or national interests of the U.S., world peace, culture or other significant endeavours.

With files from the Associated Press