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AN INTERVIEW WITH JANE SMILEY Jane Smiley Q Robert Blakeman Jane Smiley was born in Los Angeles, grew up in St. Louis, and studied at Vassar and the University of Iowa, where she received her Ph.D. She is the author of nine works of fiction, including The Age of Grief, Ordinary Love & Good Will, A Thousand Acres (which won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize), Moo, and most recently The All-True Travels and Adventures ofLidie Newton. She lives in northern California. This interview was conducted in April, 1998, in Columbia, Missouri, by Kay Bonetti of the American Audio Prose Library. An Interview with Jane Smiley/Kay Bonetti Interviewen You grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, went to Vassar as an undergraduate, and then came back to Iowa for your graduate work. Smiley: Actually, there was a year in there where after I finished Vassar I went to Europe with my then husband and we hitchhiked around, wondering what to do. He'd been a medieval history student in college and I was interested in medieval literature, too. We decided to go to graduate school, the University of Virginia or the University of Iowa. He got into both places, but I didn't get into either. So we picked Iowa because that was closer to Wyoming, where he was from. We got to Iowa, and he went to school, and I worked in a teddy bear factory. In the middle of the first semester I went with him to a party of medievalists and met the teacher of Old Norse. I had taken Old English in undergraduate school and liked it very much, so I asked him if I could join his Old Norse class. He said yes, I could, so I joined it for the rest of the semester, and then I applied to get into graduate school there in English literature with a specialty in medieval literature. I got in, and so I started going. Interviewer: When did you first feel a sense of vocation about being a writer? Smiley: Probably when I was a senior in college. I had done well in creative writing classes before that, so I signed up for the senior creative writing class and I started writing a novel. It took me about that school year to write it. By the time I was to page sixty, I felt a certain click. I really enjoyed it; I thought it was good. I was intertwining a couple of stories that had background and movement. Even though it was a somewhat silly book about the grand passions of college students, it really was a novel. I was very committed once it was written to just going on and writing novels. The Missouri Review ยท 91 Interviewer: How come you did the literature thing in graduate school? Smiley: I didn't get into the Writers' Workshop, so I decided to go in the back door. It's always been comfortable to me to have a foot in two camps. It was comfortable to me to have that in graduate school also. Interviewen You did finally take the two master's degrees, the MA and the MFA. How do you assess your experience at the Iowa Writers' Workshop? Smiley: Iowa City between 1973 and 1978 was a lot of fun, and there were a lot of interesting people around. There was no supervision of any kind. Nobody had any money. Everybody lived in farmhouses. Nobody had any kids. Everybody was sleeping with everybody else. It just was more fun than you can possibly imagine! Interviewer: Barn Blind was your first book, and then At Paradise Gate. You followed them with The Greenlanders, which seems to me more ambitious. Can you talk about the genesis of those early books? Smiley: I didn't write any novels until I got to Iceland on a Fulbright. I went there in 1976 for about eight months. It was in Iceland that I conceived of all my first novels, starting with Barn Blind and At Paradise Gate, and The Greenlanders. I knew that I wanted to write The Greenlanders . I had the scholarly background...


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