Well-known fiction writer Lee Smith

Fiction writer Lee Smith will be speaking at the Spring Literary Festival on April 6, at 7:30 p.m. in the Coulter Recital Hall and she is expected to draw a very large crowd. Smith will be reading from her recently published novel Dimestore, a memoir about Smith herself and about a time and place that most of us will never experience.

Fiction writer Lee Smith Photo from leesmith.com

Fiction writer Lee Smith
Photo from leesmith.com

Smith received a BA in English Literature from Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia, and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. She then taught English at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University but has since retired. She still occasionally teaches some writing workshops.

Smith was born in 1944 in Grundy, Virginia, a small coal-mining town in the Appalachian Mountains. Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia, Lee Smith was already writing –and selling—stories in her hometown by the age of 9. Smith attended Hollins College in Roanoke where she and fellow student Annie Dillard (the well-known essayist and novelist) became go-go dancers for an all-girl rock band, the Virginia Woolfs. During her senior year at Hollins, Smith submitted an early draft of a coming-of-age novel to a Book-of-the-Month Club contest and was awarded one of twelve fellowships. Two years later, that novel, The Last Day the Dog Bushes Bloomed became Smith’s first published work of fiction.

Since 1968, she has published fifteen novels: The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed (1968), Something in the Wind (1971), Black Mountain Breakdown (1980), Oral History (1983), Family Linen (1985), Fair and Tender Ladies (1988), The Devil’s Dream (1992), Saving Grace (1995), The Christmas Letters (1996), The Last Girls (2003), On Agate Hill (2006), and Guests on Earth’ (2013), as well as four collections of short stories: Cakewalk (1981), Me and My Baby View the Eclipse (1990), News of the Spirit (1997), and Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger (2010). She now can add one memoir to that list, Dimestore: A Writer’s Life.

Dimestore: A Writer's Life by Lee Smith Photo from leesmith.com

Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith
Photo from leesmith.com

Smith has received many awards for her writing including the O. Henry Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, the North Carolina Award for Literature, and, in April 2013, she was the first recipient of Mercer University’s Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature. Her novel The Last Girls was listed on the New York Times bestseller’s list and won the Southern Book Critics Circle Award.

In an interview with the Faith and Leadership organization at Duke Divinity, Lee Smith was asked where she learned the tradition of storytelling.

“I was born into it,” she answered. “I think that the kind of writer you will be is to some degree determined by how you first hear language and who is speaking to you and what language they’re using, what kind of voice and intonation and so on. For me, it was this very rich Appalachian voice and a dialect of people a generation or two older than me. Because I was a late-in-life child to my parents and I was an only child, I was often in the company of grown-ups who were much older – my grandparents and their generation, and my aunts and uncles – and they all talked a certain way.”