An elusive novelist who wrote the classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, has died in the United States, aged 89.

Harper Lee died peacefully on Thursday, her publisher HarperCollins said in a statement on Friday local time (early Saturday morning NZT). The statement did not provide details about how she died, the Associated Press reported.

"The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer, but what many don't know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to -- in private -- surrounded by books and the people who loved her," Michael Morrison, head of HarperCollins US general books group, said in the statement.

Lee's book gave a child's-eye view of racial injustice in a small town in the divided south during the 1930s. It became standard reading for millions of young people and an Oscar-winning film. The 1961 epic narrative earned her a Pulitzer prize.

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For most of her life, Lee divided her time between New York City, where she wrote the novel in the 1950s, and her hometown of Monroeville, which inspired the book's fictional Maycomb.

Lee had lived for several years in a nursing home less than a mile from the house in which she had grown up in Monroeville, Alabama.

Until last year, Lee had been something of a one-book literary wonder, but a second novel was discovered and later published as Go Set a Watchman in July.

By 2015, its sales were reported by HarperCollins to be more than 40 million worldwide, making it one of the most widely read American novels of the 20th century.