Harper Lee

Harper Lee, with actress Annette Bening, made a rare public appearance in 2005 to accept an award from the Los Angeles Public Library. (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times / May 19, 2005)

Harper Lee's leap into the headlines with a lawsuit against a New York literary agent is a remarkable change for the reclusive author, who wrote a great American novel a half-century ago and has hardly been heard from since.

Another famous author/recluse, J.D. Salinger, popped up in a legal challenge in a few years ago, when he tried to halt publication of "60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye," an unauthorized sequel to his classic coming of age novel. A settlement of that lawsuit -- coming after Salinger died -- limited the sale of the book in the U.S. and Canada. 

Now Lee, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," has accused her former agent, Samuel Pinkus, and others of trying to deprive her of royalties from the novel.

According to news reports detailing the complaint, Lee had suffered a stroke and was in an assisted-living facility when she signed a document assigning her copyright to Pinkus’ firm.  Though the copyright was re-assigned to her in 2012, Pinkus has continued to receive royalties from the novel, the complaint says.

Lee's novel has sold more than 30 million copies since being published in 1960, and remains a staple on school reading lists. But Lee may go down in history as the biggest one-hit wonder in the literary world, easily surpassing Margaret Mitchell of "Gone With the Wind" fame.