Jane Smiley is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of A Thousand Acres, an award-winning short story and nonfiction writer, and is about to publish the fifth book in her series for young readers, The Horses of Oak Valley Ranch. Jane will be coming to Stanford this summer to speak, but we were able to sit down with her and ask a few questions about how she came to be a writer.
GBSP: What role did literature play in your childhood?
I wouldn’t call it literature–I read lots of series books like The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and a series of biographies called The Landmark Series. I read literature in school, sometimes with enjoyment. I loved horse series books like The Black Stallion books, and a series written by a writer names Dorothy Lyons. In 5th grade, our teacher read the Little House books aloud in class, In 7th, 8th, and 9th grades I started really liking some of the books we were assigned, especially Giants in the Earth and David Copperfield. But I always did my homework, and I think that I learned a lot from books that I didn’t enjoy or didn’t understand, like Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar. It’s okay for a work to be mysterious–that can make it more alluring rather than less.
GBSP: Did any one person in your life stand out as fostering a love of writing or literature?
My mother always encouraged me to read–she bought books and didn’t care whether they were respectable or not. She worked at a newspaper, so I often saw her typing up her articles.
GBSP: What was your favorite book as a teenager?
I loved Giants in the Earth, by Ole Rolvaag and David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
GBSP: Which writers inspired you?
All of them!
GBSP: Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, not until I got to college and took a creative writing class. Before that, I wanted to be a jockey!
GBSP: If you could give one piece of advice to young writers, what would it be?
Read read read.