September 26, 1949, Jane Smiley was born in Los Angeles. Her parents
divorced when she was young, and she was raised by her mother,
Frances, a working journalist, in St. Louis, Missouri. She grew up surrounded by her
mother's close family, and Smiley has been working the stories of her family
members into her own writing ever since.
attending grammar and high school in St. Louis, Smiley moved to Poughkeepsie, New York,
where she entered Vassar College.
Afterwards, she took a year off to travel to Europe, where she worked on an archeological dig. When she
returned to the states, she married John Whiston, a student at Yale
University, in 1970. After graduation, the couple moved to Iowa City,
where Smiley began graduate work in English literature at the University of
Iowa. She received her PhD at Iowa with a dissertation on Old Norse
and taught until 1996 at Iowa State University in Ames.
She wrote Age of Grief (1988), Greenlanders
(1993), and A Thousand Acres (1991), which won the
Pulitzer Prize in
1992. It's the story of a man who owns some Iowa farmland that he plans
to divide between his three daughters.
southern-gothic novel played through the eyes of an innocent woman who
slowly comes to see the evil in the world, the novel is well written and
performed, like an opera, although the plot is at times limp and populated
with stereotypes (child abuse being one of America's most abused themes of
the time). The book relies on a conventional structure.
limit of Smiley's style, like the limits of many American writers of her
generation, is that half of her novel looks and feels more like a set of
interlocking short stories than a novel. The second half, once the
plot has had a chance to develop, feels more like the epic novel that it
aims to be. On the positive side, Smiley offers a true-to-life look at
life on the farm.
Her most recent book is A Year at the Races: Reflections
on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck (2004), a memoir about horses'
lives and people whose lives are about horses.
has also written numerous essays for magazines such as Vogue, The New Yorker,
Practical Horseman, Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, Victoria,
Mirabella, Allure, The Nation, and others. She has written on
farming, horse training, child rearing, literature, impulse buying, getting
dressed, politics, Barbie, marriage, and the craftspeople of the Catskill
Jane Smiley said, "I think a lot of things are hilariously funny, and that's
kind of the way I live my life. And I also believe that it's only
possible to live if you can detach yourself and detach your sort of sense of
what's going on a little bit and take a kind of observational position
on everything... Being detached is the first step to being comic."
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