Lee Smith was born and grew up in Grundy, Va., a small mountain town where her mother taught school and her father ran a dime store. She began writing stories as a child and, together with a friend, wrote and published a neighborhood newspaper. Her last two years of high school were spent at St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, Va. Smith attended Hollins College (now Hollins University) in Roanoke, Va., where she wrote for the student newspaper and literary magazine. She also spent part of a year working for The Richmond News-Leader, for which she received academic credit. Smith graduated with a BA degree in 1967, one of fourteen college seniors that year to win a writing grant from the Book-of-the-Month Club. (Her novel The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed was published in 1968.) In 1967, Smith married poet James A. Seay. The couple moved to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he taught at the University of Alabama and she worked for The Tuscaloosa News. Smith’s next two novels were published while she was living in Alabama.
Smith and her family moved to Chapel Hill, N.C., in 1974, where she taught high school English for several years. She began teaching creative writing classes at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1977. Smith continued writing as well, and two of her short stories were included in O. Henry Prize Stories collections. In 1981, Smith joined the English faculty at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She and Seay divorced that year, and Smith moved to Raleigh. Also that year, she published her fourth novel and a collection of short stories. Smith remarried in 1985 to journalist Hal Crowther. She continued to teach and to publish novels and short stories. In 1994, Smith received an award from the Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Foundation to do community work. She went to Knott County, Ky., (home of author James Still) and worked in literacy programs at the Hindeman Settlement School. Smith retired from North Carolina State University in 2000. She lives in Hillsborough, N.C., and has a cabin in Jefferson, N.C.
Lee Smith’s novels and short stories feature Southern women protagonists and frequently have rural or small town settings. Fancy Strut is set in Speed, Ala.
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Photo courtesy of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts, Auburn University.
Last updated on Oct 16, 2009.