Elizabeth Spencer, a major fiction writer of the second half of the twentieth century, is often classified as an important figure in the later Southern Renaissance, but she does not limit herself in setting, subject, and theme. She was the daughter of a businessman, James L. Spencer, and Mary J. McCain Spencer, whose families had lived in northern Mississippi for almost a century. Elizabeth spent her childhood roaming the countryside, reading, and avidly listening to local stories about the past.
After graduating from high school, Spencer attended Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi. During that period, she became acquainted with the writer Eudora Welty, who later contributed the foreword to The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer. After earning her B.A., Spencer continued her studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. There one of her mentors was the scholar and writer Donald Davidson. After completing her M.A., Spencer taught in Senatobia, Mississippi, and in Nashville, and also spent a year working on the Nashville Tennessean. With Davidson’s help she obtained a contract to publish her first novel, Fire in the Morning. The year it appeared, she began to teach at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
By this time she was regularly publishing her short stories. She was also working hard on her second novel, This Crooked Way, which appeared in 1952 and led to an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters that enabled her to spend a summer in New York. In 1953 a Guggenheim Fellowship enabled her to travel to Italy. There she met John Arthur Blackwood Rusher, an Englishman...
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