Jane G. Smiley, 75MA, 76MFA, 78PhD, is one of the University of Iowa's best-known graduates. The author of eleven works of fiction, she has won numerous literary awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her novel A Thousand Acres, which was made into a motion picture starring Jessica Lange.
Smiley earned her B.A. from Vassar College in 1971 and came to the Iowa Writers' Workshop. After receiving her M.F.A. degree, she completed a Ph.D. from the Department of English in 1978.
Smiley's novels have achieved the rare combination of critical acclaim and commercial success. A prolific writer, she has produced nine novels, as well as many short stories and essays. Besides A Thousand Acres-a modern retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear that follows the story of a Midwestern farm family's disintegration-her novels include The Greenlanders (1988), Moo (1995), and The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (1998).
Smiley's novel Horse Heaven (2000) focuses on the world of horse racing and reflects a longtime passion for horses that in 1996 led her to move to California, where she raises thoroughbreds. One of her more recent books, a biography of Charles Dickens, is featured in the Penguin Lives series. Her newest novel entitled, Good Faith, takes on the real estate industry.
Highly regarded by critics, she has received the National Book Critics Circle Award (1991), the Midland Authors Award (1992), a Friends of American Writers Prize (1981), and two O'Henry Awards (1985 and 1988). In 2001, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her essays have appeared in numerous publications, including the New Yorker, Practical Horseman, Harper's, the New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair.
A dedicated educator, Smiley taught from 1981 to 1996 at Iowa State University in Ames, where she was known for her fine sense of humor and energetic teaching style. She taught at the UI as a visiting assistant professor of English in 1981 and 1987, has given several readings here, and appeared as guest speaker at the 1991 Friends of the University of Iowa Libraries dinner.
As one of the country's most respected writers, Smiley is especially well-known for the meticulously crafted and researched portrayals of the Midwesterners who appear in many of her novels. Her work has brought national distinction to the Writers' Workshop, the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the University of Iowa.
Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.