Portraits from Our Past:
Southwest Virginia Authors
Lee Smith

Every good book begins with the story and the story begins with a voice. Author Lee Smith found the voice and sense of place that infuses her novels growing up in Grundy, Virginia. By age nine, Lee was already writing and selling stories for a nickel a piece about her neighbors in the coal boom town of Grundy and the nearby hollers. "I didn't know any writers" said Smith "but I grew up in the midst of people just talking and talking and talking and telling these stories."

As a child, Smith describes herself as an insatiable reader and a "deeply weird" child. She credits the beginning of her training as a writer to time spent at her father's dime store that he operated. Smith would watch shoppers through a peephole in the ceiling of the store. She would pay close attention to the details of how they talked and dressed and what they said.

After spending her last two years of high school at St. Catherine's in Richmond, Virginia, Smith enrolled at Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia. It was during her senior year at Hollins that Smith's literary career began to take off. She submitted a draft of a coming-of-age novel to the Book-of-the-Month Club contest and was awarded a fellowship. In 1968, that novel, The Last Day the Dog Bushes Bloomed, became Smith's first published work of fiction.

By 1971, Smith had written her second novel, Something in the Wind. Fancy Strut (1973) was widely praised as a comic masterpiece. This was followed by Black Mountain Breakdown (1981) and Oral History (1983) which became a featured selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club. Both Fair and Tender Ladies (1988) and The Devil’s Dream (1992) have been adapted to the stage.

Smith, now a resident of North Carolina, is a Lyndhurst Prize Winner, two-time winner of the O’Henry Award for short fiction, a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Award and Academy Award in Literature recipient, and has received the North Carolina Award for fiction, among many other awards.

In all, Lee Smith’s career spans three decades and includes ten novels, three collections of short stories, one novella, and numerous essays, nearly all of which, since 1980, have focused on her native Appalachia.


The Southwest Virginia Museum is a member of the American
Association of Museums, the American Association of State and Local History, and the Virginia Association of Museums.