Harper Lee (search), who has been dodging publicity for decades since she published her only book, "To Kill a Mockingbird (search)," made a rare step into the limelight to be honored by the Los Angeles Public Library.
Lee, 79, stopped giving interviews a few years after she won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1960 coming-of-age book exploring racial prejudice in the South. She has turned down most request for appearances.
But she couldn't refuse an invitation from Veronique Peck (search), the widow of actor Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his starring role as lawyer Atticus Finch in the 1962 film version of the book and became a lifelong friend with Lee.
"Mockingbird" co-star Brock Peters (search), who played the black man falsely accused of rape in the film, presented the award to Lee.
After Veronique Peck whispered in her ear, Lee gave her only remarks of the evening: "I'll say it again. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart."
Veronique Peck said Lee is "like a national treasure."
"She's someone who has made a difference with this book," she said. "All the kids in the United States read this book and see the film in the seventh and eighth grades and write papers and essays. My husband used to get thousands and thousands of letters from teachers who would send them to him."
She said Atticus Finch was her husband's "favorite role, and he felt that in his professional life, it was probably the best performance he ever gave."
The awards dinner Thursday drew more than 600 supporters and raised $700,000 for computers, computer training and literacy programs.