A Thousand Acres led to critical acclaim for Jane Smiley, including the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, a National Book Critics’ Circle Award, and a Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. Smiley grew up in the Midwest at Webster Groves, Missouri, and after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College returned to the heartland for advanced degrees, including a doctorate, at the University of Iowa. While she has seen and written about much of the world—she spent a year in Iceland on a Fulbright Fellowship before finishing at Iowa—life in the Midwest remains a frequent theme for her.
Smiley’s historical novel, The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (1998), for example, is set in Kansas just before the American Civil War, during the battle between pro- and antislavery supporters. Her work includes a critical work on Charles Dickens and Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005), which reveals her to be an even more prolific reader than writer, one who takes so much pleasure in reading that it improves her health.
Smiley’s narrative technique has the simultaneous effect of immersing the reader in place (Zebulon County, Iowa), introducing the major characters, creating a sense of suspense by hinting at hidden tensions, and revealing the anxieties of Ginny Cook Smith, the narrator. A view of the endless flat prairie of the Cook farm, looking toward the farms of the Clarks and the...
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