Acclaimed author Harper Lee has been awarded with America's highest civilian honour by president George Bush for her contribution to literature.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee's only novel, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and yesterday's awarding of the presidential medal of freedom puts the writer in the esteemed company of past recipients such as Doris Day, Aretha Franklin and Muhammad Ali.

Along with Lee, economist Gary Becker and human rights advocate Oscar Elias Biscet were honoured at the White House ceremony.

Lee's novel, a call for racial tolerance, was adapted for the screen in 1962, with Gregory Peck awarded the best actor for his portrayal of idealistic lawyer Atticus Finch, a single father given the task of representing a black man falsely accused of rape in a racially tense Alabama.

In a rare article published in a 2006 issue of The Oprah Magazine, the 81-year-old said despite technological advances, "I still plod along with books".

President Bush said the recipients of the award - which was reinstated in 1963 by president John F Kennedy - had "earned the respect of the American people".

He added that those honoured "hold a unique place in the story of our time".

06/11/2007 10:52:27