Jane Smiley was born in Los Angeles, California, moved to the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri as an infant, and lived there through grammar school and high school (The John Burroughs School). After getting her BA at Vassar College in 1971, she traveled in Europe for a year, working on an archeological dig and sightseeing, and then returned to Iowa for graduate school at the University of Iowa.
MFA and PhD in hand, she went to work in 1981 at Iowa State University, in Ames, where she taught until 1996. Jane is the author of numerous novels including The Age of Grief, The Greenlanders, Ordinary Love and Good Will, A Thousand Acres, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, Moo, Horse Heaven, Good Faith, Ten Days in the Hills, and the young adult novel, The Georges and the Jewels, as well as many essays for such magazines as Vogue, The New Yorker, Practical Horseman, Harpers,The New York Times Magazine, Allure, The Nation and others. She has written on politics, farming, horse training, child-rearing, literature, impulse buying, getting dressed, Barbie, marriage, and many other topics. She is also the author of the nonfiction books A Year at the Races, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel and from Penguin Lives Series, a biography of Charles Dickens. In 2001, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2006, she received the PEN/USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature.
Jane lives in Northern California, as do several of her horses.
This biography was last updated on 05/04/2010.
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In three separate interviews Jane Smiley discusses the inspiration for her novels Horse Heaven (2000), Good Faith (2003) and Private Life (2010)....
A Conversation with Jane Smiley about
her novel Private Life
Q: Some of the characters in Private Life are based in part on members of your own familyyour main character Margaret Mayfield on your great aunt, Frances See and Andrew Early on her infamous scientist husband Thomas Jefferson Jackson See, a naval astronomer whose increasingly implausible theories made him an outcast in the scientific community. Did you ever meet them?
A: I didn't know my aunt at all, or her husband. She died when I was about two or three. She was my grandfather's much older sisterhe was the youngest of ten children and she was number two or three. But my mother and her siblings were quite fond of her. As for her husband, they thought he was just an eccentric family uncle, and I don't think they realized how infamous he was in the physics establishment.
Q: How much of Margaret and Andrew draw from your aunt and uncle's actual experience and how much is purely fictional?
A: There were only a few family stories that ...
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