Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Jane Graves Smiley was born in Los Angeles on September 26, 1949, during her father’s military tour of duty. Parents James La Verne Smiley and Frances Graves Nuelle soon returned to their Midwest origins, and although Jane did not grow up on a working farm, she claims deep “roots in rural country.” After a childhood spent in St. Louis, Missouri, she attended Vassar College and in 1971 received a B.A. in English following completion of her first novel, done as a senior thesis. Subsequently she earned a master of fine arts degree (1976) as well as an M.A. and Ph.D. in medieval literature (1978), all from the University of Iowa. A Fulbright Fellowship to Iceland (1976-1977) enabled Smiley to transform her graduate study of Norse sagas into The Greenlanders (1988), an epic novel of fourteenth century Scandinavian pioneers. Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) supported her writing in 1978 and 1987. From 1981 through 1996 she taught literature and creative writing at Iowa State University in Ames, with stints as a visiting professor at the University of Iowa in 1981 and 1987.
Having begun her publishing career in 1980 with Barn Blind, Smiley had seen two more novels to press (At Paradise Gate in 1981 and Duplicate Keys in 1984) by the time critical praise for her work intensified with the appearance of...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Smiley’s fiction of the 1980’s and early 1990’s explored the destructive nature of human desire and dissected the emotional power concentrated within the family, where middle-class faith in the future often succumbs to the paralyzing grip of the past and the terrible grief often attendant upon love. Her later career has ranged more widely and employed more comedy than elegy to expose the competing values of American life—self-fulfillment, material success, personal usefulness, and love.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Born to James LaVerne Smiley and Frances Graves Nuelle on September 26, 1949, during her father’s military tour of duty in California, Jane Graves Smiley was transplanted at a young age to the Midwest and grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. The daughter of a writer-mother, she attended Vassar College and received her B.A. in English in 1971; in composing her first novel as her senior thesis, she discovered that “this was for me, this creation of worlds.” Smiley completed a master’s of fine arts at the University of Iowa in 1976, and received an M.A. (1975) and a Ph.D. (1978) in medieval literature from the same institution. Toward completion of that work, a Fulbright Fellowship in 1976-1977 allowed her to spend time in Iceland, where her study of Norse sagas laid the groundwork for her 1988 epic novel The Greenlanders.
In 1981 Smiley began teaching literature and creative writing as a member of the faculty of Iowa State University, where she became a full professor in 1989. In 1981 and 1987 she also served as visiting professor at the University of Iowa. Though awarded the title of distinguished professor in 1992, she left Iowa State in 1996 to become a full-time writer at a horse-breeding ranch she bought in Northern California with the substantial earnings provided her from the book sales of and film rights to A Thousand Acres.
Smiley has commented that a childhood shadowed by the existence of the atomic...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Although she writes extensively and convincingly about the American rural landscape and agricultural themes, Jane Graves Smiley grew up a city girl in St. Louis, Missouri, among gifted writers and storytellers. Her mother, Frances Nuelle (Graves) Smiley, held a newspaper job, and her father, James La Verne Smiley, was a West Point graduate and career military man. Smiley attributes much of her literary success to the fact that she grew up in a family that loved to tell its own history; listening to this history engendered in Smiley a lifelong fascination with character motives and plots.
Smiley attended Vassar College, from which she received her B.A. in 1971. The rest of her education was completed at the University of Iowa, including her M.F.A., her M.A., and her Ph.D. She began her working life humbly in a teddy-bear factory, but at Iowa State University she rapidly progressed from assistant professor in 1981 to distinguished professor in 1992.
Smiley retired from teaching in 1996 and settled in Northern California to pursue writing full time and to enjoy horseback riding. She has been married and divorced three times; she has two daughters (Phoebe Silag and Lucy Silag) and one son (Axel James Mortenson).
At six feet, two inches, Jane Smiley is affectionately known as the tallest woman in American fiction. Perhaps her height contributes to the fact that she is not easily intimidated. Rather, she is plainspoken and, by her own...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Jane Graves Smiley has distinguished herself as a trenchant observer of the disruptive workings of human desire within middle-class American families in the late twentieth century. Born in Los Angeles in 1949 to James La Verne Smiley and Frances Graves Nuelle during her father’s military posting to California, she was reared in St. Louis. Although she never lived on a working farm, Smiley regards the Midwest, where both her parents had deep family ties, as having imprinted a decidedly rural stamp upon her imagination. She also credits her two principal themes, self-identified as “sex and apocalypse,” to her youthful attention to a culture simultaneously preoccupied with the twin threats of nuclear war and the newly available contraceptive pill.
Smiley’s proclivities as a budding writer began early. She completed her B.A. in English from Vassar College in 1971 by presenting a novel as her senior thesis. Later she undertook graduate work at the University of Iowa, securing not only a master’s in fine arts in 1976 but also an M.A. (in 1975) and Ph.D. (in 1978), both in medieval literature. This blend of interests and training is perhaps best evidenced in The Greenlanders, Smiley’s exhaustively researched 1988 epic novel about fourteenth century Scandinavian pioneers. It is based upon Norse sagas she had studied during a Fulbright...
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Smiley was born on September 26, 1949, in Los Angeles, California. Her parents divorced when she was very young, and the author was raised by her journalist mother, Frances, in St. Louis, Missouri. Smiley benefited from the close contact of her mother’s large extended family, whose stories have appeared in many of Smiley’s own works.
After graduating from high school in 1967, Smiley attended Vassar College in New York, where she graduated in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. During this time, she also met John Whiston, a student at Yale University. The two were married in 1970. After graduation, they moved to Iowa City, where Smiley eventually began graduate work in English literature at the University of Iowa, earning her master of arts degree in 1975. At the same time, Smiley applied for admission to the university’s prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop but was initially turned down. After honing her technique, Smiley reapplied and was accepted in 1974, graduating in 1976 with a master of fine arts degree. In 1975, Smiley and Whiston divorced. During the 1976–1977 academic year, Smiley earned a Fulbright-Hays study grant and spent the year in Iceland, where she began her first two novels, Barn Blind (1980) and At Paradise Gate (1981).
In 1978, Smiley earned her doctoral degree from the University of Iowa and married her second husband, historian William Silag. In 1981, Smiley began teaching courses...
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