Elizabeth Spencer Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 678 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Elizabeth Spencer was born on July 19, 1921, in Carrollton, Mississippi, the daughter of Mary J. McCain Spencer and James L. Spencer, a businessman. Both her mother’s and her father’s families had lived in northern Mississippi for almost a century. Spencer’s childhood was almost ideal for a writer. Her mother and her mother’s family gave her a passion for books, and her father gave her a love of nature. During long summer visits to the McCain plantation, she developed an appreciation of the land. Meanwhile, like the character in her short stories who she says most resembles her, the intensely curious Marilee Summerall, Spencer was storing local legends and gossip. She would never lack material for her fiction, and even as a child, she had begun to write.

After graduating from her local high school, Spencer attended Belhaven College, a Presbyterian girls’ school in Jackson, Mississippi. There, she edited a newspaper, won awards for fiction and poetry, and became a friend of Eudora Welty, who lived across the street from the college. Welty comments in her foreword to The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer that there was a seriousness and determination about Spencer that convinced Welty that she would indeed become a writer. After receiving her B.A., Spencer went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, carrying with her a partially completed novel. While there, she encountered the scholar and writer Donald Davidson, who later helped her to get a...

(The entire section is 476 words.)