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The Reclusive Harper Lee: America's Beloved Writer as You've Never Seen Her Before

Harper Lee: See Photos of the Author Ahead of Go Set a Watchman Release
Harper Lee on Fire Island in 1964
Courtesy Joy Williams Brown

07/09/2015 AT 06:45 AM EDT

As readers everywhere anticipate the upcoming release of Harper Lee's second novel, Go Set a Watchman, PEOPLE has exclusively obtained never-before-seen photos of the 89-year-old author as a young woman.

Two photos below show a 20-something Lee looking unusually glamorous while lounging in a royal blue dress with a full, pleated skirt and ruffled top.

The striking shots were taken in the 1950s, after World War II and before she wrote her iconic first novel To Kill a Mockingbird, her close friend Joy Brown tells PEOPLE.

The Reclusive Harper Lee: America's Beloved Writer as You've Never Seen Her Before| To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Harper Lee in New York City in the 1950s

Courtesy Michael Brown





Lee, who moved to New York City from her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in 1949 to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, donned the blue dress for a special occasion – to accompany her good friend, Hal Caufield, to a Navy reception in N.Y.C.

The Reclusive Harper Lee: America's Beloved Writer as You've Never Seen Her Before| To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Lee dressed for a Navy reception in New York City in the 1950s

Courtesy Michael Brown



"Caufield was an officer in the Navy Reserve and he was one of Harper Lee's first friends in New York," Brown says.

Another photo (see above) shows a smiling Lee holding up a string of fish during a trip to Saltaire, Fire Island in the summer of 1964. Lee spent the summer on the island with Brown and her husband, Michael. "She loved to fish, and spent the summer fishing and enjoying herself on the island," Joy recalls.

The Browns were more than just friends of Lee's – they were benefactors, without whom To Kill a Mockingbird may never have been written. The couple met Lee through her friend, fellow author Truman Capote, according to Michael's obituary in The New York Times.

The Reclusive Harper Lee: America's Beloved Writer as You've Never Seen Her Before| To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Harper Lee in the 1950s

Courtesy Michael Brown



When Michael, a cabaret performer and Broadway composer, and Joy, a former ballerina, met Lee she was a struggling writer who was working as an airline ticket clerk. During Christmas of 1956, Lee visited the Browns and spotted an envelope with her name on it in their tree.

"I opened it and read: 'You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas,'" Lee wrote in a rare 1961 essay in McCall's magazine.

"It's a fantastic gamble," Lee recalled telling Michael at the time. "It's such a great risk."

"He looked at me," she wrote, "and said softly: 'No, honey. It's not a risk. It's a sure thing.'"

Truer words were never spoken. The end result, To Kill a Mockingbird, was published in 1960 to great acclaim, winning its author a Pulitzer Prize.

Now, nearly 60 years later, the literary world awaits the release of Lee's second novel, Go Set a Watchman, due out on July 14. The story, a precursor to To Kill a Mockingbird, follows Scout as an adult woman living in New York City in the 1950s.

Sound familiar?
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