Special Collections / Exhibits / Lee Smith / Lee's Brilliant Career

Lee's Brilliant Career:
Novels, Short Stories and Publications

Lee Marshall Smith has enjoyed a prolific career as a reporter, film critic, newspaper editor, educator, and an award-winning novelist. Among her many published novels and short stories are The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed (1968), Oral History (1983), Me and My Baby View the Eclipse (Photograph of Lee Smith.1990), Fair and Tender Ladies (1988), The Devil's Dream (1992), and The Christmas Letters (1996). Smith earned a B.A. in English from Hollins College in 1967. While there, Smith wrote her first novel, The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed, which won a Book Club Award. As a student, she interned at the Richmond News Leader and immediately after graduation she worked as a reporter for the Tuscaloosa News.

Always versatile, Smith taught English at the Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1971 to 1975 and at the Carolina Friends School in North Carolina from 1975 to 1977. She went to Duke University in 1977 and to UNC-Chapel Hill from 1978 to 1981 to teach creative writing. From 1979 to 1980, she directed a summer writing workshop for the University of Virginia. In 1981 she came to NC State University as an assistant professor of English and later became the director of NC State's Creative Writing Program. Smith, professor emerita of English and writer-in-residence at NC State, retired from her position as director of the Creative Writing Program in May 2000. Her significance in contemporary American literature is nationally recognized and honored through numerous writing awards and glowing reviews.

 

1960's1970's1980's1990's

 

 

1968:

Cover of "The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed."

The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed, 1968. Smith's first novel grew from a short story titled "Little Arthur," published shortly after she graduated from college. The book received excellent reviews in papers across the United States.

Telegram expressing interest in publishing "The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed."

 

 

Correspondence from Harper & Row, Publishers concerning The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed.

Correspondence from Harper and Row Publishers Correspondence from Harper and Row Publishers Correspondence from Harper and Row Publishers

Review of "The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed" by Gene Shalit.

Gene Shalit reviewed The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed in the Los Angeles Times.

Washington Star Review.

James J. Kilpatrick reviewed The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed in his syndicated column shown here in the Washington Star.

Review in "Chicago Tribune" by Fanny Butcher.

Review of The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed by Fanny Butcher in the Chicago Tribune.


1969:

Smith worked as a reporter, film critic, and editor for the Tuscaloosa News.

 

Picture of Staff Reporter, Lee Seay, from "The Tuscaloosa News."

Description of "Fun," a weekly supplement in "The Tuscaloosa News" edited by Lee Smith.
Article written by staff writer, Lee Smith.

1976:

Lee Smith was writer-in-residence at Hollins College.

Article concerning Smith's role as writer-in-residence. Another article from 1970 about Smith's role as writer-in-residence at Hollins College.

 


1981:

Cover of "Cakewalk."

Cakewalk is published.

 

Two stories from Cakewalk (1981) received O. Henry Awards. Reviewers praised the collection of short stories.

 

 

Read two reviews of Cakewalk from 1981:

Review of "Cakewalk" appearing in the "Roanoke Times and World-News."
"Charlotte Observer" review of "Cakewalk."

Published in Roanoke Times & World-News, Sunday, December 6, 1981.

Published in The Charlotte Observer, Sunday, October 4, 1981.

1983:

Oral History is published.

Letter by Smith discussing story ideas for "Oral History."

Letter written by Lee Smith to Faith Sale concerning story ideas for Oral History.

Letter by Smith discussing story ideas for "Oral History."

Deft and assured . . . Smith's seemingly effortless work is a considerable feat . . . She is nothing less than masterly as she starts us out with ghosts and bawdry, then finishes with wild song." — The New York Times Book Review

Oral History tells the story of the Cantrell family through multiple voices. It is a complex work which features Jennifer, a relative of the Cantrells, arriving at the old family homestead to conduct an oral history project of her relatives in Hoot Owl Holler. Jennifer's class assignment provides Smith with a vehicle to weave ghost stories and family tales into a coherent narrative spanning the better part of a century.

In reference to Oral History, a reviewer for the Village Voice wrote that "you could make comparisons to Faulkner and Carson McCullers, to The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Wuthering Heights."

Sketch for "Oral History."

Lee Smith's drawings and notes for Oral History.

Notes for "Oral History."

 

1988:

 

Copy of Fair & Tender Ladies published in Danish. Cover of "Fair And Tender Ladies" published in Danish.
Cover of "Fair And Tender Ladies" published in Swedish. Copy of Fair & Tender Ladies published in Swedish.

 

Fair and Tender Ladies is published, 1988.

"[Smith's] work has a mixture of lyricism and sexual boldness. . . Like Sissy Spacek and Loretta Lynn, Smith can make a performance in a popular medium seem like a complete declaration of feeling. . . . Fair and Tender Ladies might have been sung into being." —Newsweek

In Fair and Tender Ladies, Smith uses letters to tell the story of Ivy Rowe, a formidable and spirited mountain woman beloved by readers of this book. Ivy's tale is unforgettable and moving. Her letters bring the magic, history, and pragmatism of the Appalachian region alive. As a review in Publisher's Weekly states, "Readers will be thoroughly captivated by Ivy Rowe, the narrator of this epistolary novel, and will come to the end of her story with a pang of regret."

 

 
"Fair and Tender Ladies" book review from "The New York Times."
Review of "Fair and Tender Ladies" which appeared in "USA Today."
New York Times Book Review
September 16, 1988
USA Today
Friday, October, 28, 1988
Description of play based on "Fair And Tender Ladies." Many plays have been adapted from Smith's novels and short stories, but perhaps the most popular one is Fair and Tender Ladies. The successful one-woman show "I Remane, Forever, Ivy Rowe" featured actress Barbara Smith.
Advertisement for play about "Ivy Rowe.".

1990:

Publication of Me and My Baby View the Eclipse.

"Extremely powerful . . . Me and My Baby View the Eclipse is about the striving and the secret nobility of people who live in a small-town American South. In these stories — thank heaven — not everythinCover of "Me and My Baby View the Eclipse."g fits: they are loose, they are sometimes awkward, but just about every one shines with revelation and awe in the face of momentary greatness and tragedy. . . . Nearly every one of the stories could move a reader to tears, for in almost every one of them there is a moment of vision or love, or unclothed wonder that transforms something plain into something transcendent." —The New York Times Book Review.

"Sparkles like diamonds. . . . ‘Tongues of Fire' is, quite simply, one of the best short stories I've ever read." —Chicago Tribune.

Me and My Baby View the Eclipse (1990) proved Smith to be a versatile writer, equally gifted in writing novels and short stories. Barbara Kingsolver, in a Los Angeles Times book review dated February 18, 1990, said, "From its wonderful title to its final sentence, this book brims with the poetry of the South, a language whose forte is the understated value judgment."

Review from the "Philadelphia Inquirer" of "Me and My Baby View the Eclipse."
 
Review in "New York Magazine" of "Me and My Baby View the Eclipse."
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 11, 1990
 
New York Magazine, February 12, 1990
     

1992:

The Devil's Dream is published, 1992.

Cover of "The Devil's Dream.""Simply marvelous. . . . As much spirit as an old-time camp meeting, as close a power of observation as a ginseng hunter's, and all the affection for its subject matter that a fond maiden aunt has for a brand-new nephew. . . . A classic, one that's fun to read." —News and Observer (Raleigh).

In 1990 Lee Smith won the Lyndhurst Prize to study country music. Her research resulted in The Devil's Dream (1992), yet another multi-generational family saga. The story of the musical Bailey family (loosely based on the legendary Carter family) plumbs nearly a century's worth of history to tell the story of the family's most successful descendant, Katie Cocker, whose career flourishes once she hits Nashville.

But The Devil's Dream is really concerned with the problem of success, which, for Katie—as well as for other country musicians and perhaps for all of us—carries within it the genesis of failure. "What you want, of course, is to be successful," Smith says. "You're always singing of home, but you're never home. And there's something about that—I think I feel like that about a lot of things, this intense ambivalence."

Camera ready art for "The Devil's Dream" cover. Camera ready art for the publication of The Devil's Dream. Camera ready art for a chapter in "The Devil's Dream."

 

  Smith's notes for Devil's Dream  
Smith's hand-written notes for "The Devil's Dream."
Smith's hand-written notes for "The Devil's Dream."
Smith's hand-written notes for "The Devil's Dream."

 

 

Copy of the 1st page of "The Devil's Dream" typescript.

The first page of The Devil's Dream, typescript.

 

1st page of "The Devil's Dream"--ready for press.

The first page of The Devil's Dream, ready to go to press.


1996:

Publication of The Christmas Letters: A Novella, 1996. Cover of "The Christmas Letters."

"Bless Lee Smith's heart! Once again, the novelist from Chapel Hill, NC, has proved that nobody knows Southern women better. Once again, her prose is apparently effortless—a deft trick for any writer. Once again, she has crafted a sparkling little gem of a story brimming with wit, charm, heartbreak and even, this time, recipes." — Chicago Tribune.

The pages below are from the draft (typescript with corrections) of The Christmas Letters

 

Draft for "The Christmas Letters."  Pg. 115 Draft for "The Christmas Letters."  Pg. 116

 

A Writer in the Making
Awards of Lee Smith
Bibliography

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Last Modified:Tuesday, 31-Aug-2010 10:10:58 EDT
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