Jane Smiley is an American novelist. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992 for her novel A Thousand Acres. Jane’s most recent work is the Last Hundred Years trilogy about an Iowa family from 1920 into the near future. All three novels are available through Suffolk Libraries.
Who were your literary influences as you were growing up?
The ones I remember are The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Black Beauty, then, when I was 13 or so, David Copperfield, Giants in the Earth, and a book about ecology. I also quite loved Crime and Punishment. We had to read a Shakespeare play every year starting when I was twelve. They were head-scratchers, but I paid attention.
The Last Hundred Years trilogy is storytelling on a grand scale. How did you keep track of all the characters and what they had said and done years before?
They remained distinct in my mind, the way your relatives do, so they mostly kept track of themselves. But there is also the editing process, so the editor’s questions make you clarify things.
Do you have much time to read for leisure or is it all research?
Both. I also teach at UC Riverside, but I assign books that I enjoy (this year, Flashman, The Sellout, The Kellys and the O’Kellys, plus many others). I prefer reading to most other things, except that you can’t knit and read at the same time (or, I can’t)
You are also known for your writing for young adults. Is it difficult to switch between the two styles?
No. The main thing in YA books is telling the story. The main thing in literary novels is making the complex parts work together. I enjoy both.
In your Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel you said “ Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.” How can we pass on that love of reading to future generations in a world where there is so much competition for the book?
Read to kids when they are small. My daughter and son-in-law have already read a thousand books to my grand-daughter, who is 16 months old. We will see what she enjoys as she gets older.
Is there anything you can share about your latest project?
Some more books in the horse series, but from a different point of view. I am enjoying writing them!
Do you have a message for your readers in Suffolk Libraries?