Smiley at the 2009 Texas Book Festival
|Awards||Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 1992|
American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2001
Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from Community School and from John Burroughs School. She obtained a BA in literature at Vassar College (1971), then earned an MA (1975), MFA (1976), and PhD (1978) from the University of Iowa. While working toward her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar. From 1981 to 1996 she was a Professor of English at Iowa State University, teaching undergraduate and graduate creative writing workshops. In 1996, she relocated to California. She returned to teaching creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, in 2015.
Smiley published her first novel, Barn Blind, in 1980, and won a 1985 O. Henry Award for her short story "Lily", which was published in The Atlantic Monthly. Her best-selling A Thousand Acres, a story based on William Shakespeare's King Lear, received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992. It was adapted into a film of the same title in 1997. Her novella The Age of Grief was made into the 2002 film The Secret Lives of Dentists. Her essay "Feminism Meets the Free Market" was included in the 2006 anthology Mommy Wars  by Washington Post writer Leslie Morgan Steiner. Her essay "Why Bother?" appears in the anthology Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting, published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2013. Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (2005), is a non-fiction meditation on the history and the nature of the novel, somewhat in the tradition of E. M. Forster's seminal Aspects of the Novel, that roams from eleventh century Japan's Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji to 21st-century American women's literature.
In 2001, Smiley was elected a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters. She has participated in the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the Cheltenham Festival, the National Book Festival, the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, and many others. She won the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, and chaired the judges' panel for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize in 2009.
Smiley's most recent works are a trilogy of novels about an Iowa family over the course of generations. The first novel of the trilogy, Some Luck, was published in 2014 by Random House. The second volume followed in the spring of 2015, and the third volume in the fall of 2015.
In 2006 Jane Smiley received the Fitzgerald Award for Achievement in American Literature award which is given annually in Rockville Maryland, the city where Fitzgerald, his wife, and his daughter are buried as part of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival.