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 The Age of Grief (1987), a collection of short fiction nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was followed by an acclaimed pair of novellas published together as “Ordinary Love” and “Good Will” (1989). With the novel A Thousand Acres (1991), Smiley won the 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. The commercial success of that work, along with the sale of film rights (for an adaptation of the same title released in 1997) enabled Smiley to leave Iowa State in 1996 and...
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