Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley

1972 - 1981
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Jane Smiley in Iowa City

Iowa City
123 S Linn St

Here are things I would not have done if I had not spent all of that time in Iowa City:

  • given birth to my three children;
    written The Greenlanders, Barn Blind, A Thousand Acres, and The Age of Grief (at least);
    taught at Iowa State University;
    married the fathers of my children.

I do not in fact know what I would have done, or who I would have been as an adult if I hadn’t lived in and around Iowa City for nine years.


From Jane Smiley’s Iowa City Days on the Writing University website


Jane Smiley: 925 E. Washington

Jane Smiley Apartment
925 E. Washington Apartment

I went to Iceland for nine months, and when I returned, I lived at 925 E. Washington, in the right hand apartment, a lovely railroad-style place – wood paneling, big front porch, Murphy bed. It was there that I met my second husband, who was friends with my neighbor. I also remember giving a party there for Ian McEwen, who was in town for a reading.


Smiley, Jane. “Iowa City Days,” The Writing University website


Jane Smiley: The Mill

The Mill Restaurant

When I met Steve, he was getting his BA in the art department, and was singing at the Mill with various partners. As I had spent college going to basketball games, so I spent most of my time in Iowa City in a booth at the Mill, listening to Steve or our friends play on the stage. He had a set of friends, too, not Workshoppers, but native Iowa Citians – a motorcycle club, fellow cooks and bartenders at the Mill, an art student or two, girls he dated and slept with, relatives. People from most of our friend groups lived with us off and on the whole time we rented the American Legion Road house. We also had cats and a Great Dane.


Smiley, Jane. “Iowa City Days,” The Writing University website

Image and Literary Reference

Jane Smiley: The Writers’ Farmhouse

The Writers' Farmhouse
American Legion Rd.

Although no longer standing, the Writers’ Farmhouse was home to a long line of workshop students from the early 1970s until 2006. Jane Smiley recounts her time living there:

In the spring, we found a farmhouse at the edge of town – on American Legion Road. Town was to the west and farm country to the east. The farmer had sold the property to developers, who were waiting for permits. I think the rent was $250. This is where I lived while I was in the workshop, and it was a nice big house, the scene of several parties – one for E. L. Doctorow, and one for Jane Howard’s birthday. We had a big garden out to the east side of the house, and several roommates, including Meredith Steinbach. One of our renters was my partner’s brother, who was a believer in Eckankar. He lived in the heatless attic, because he thought that his body could astrally project more easily if there was no insulation.


Smiley, Jane. “Iowa City Days,” The Writing University website


John Cheever’s Class at the Workshop

Iowa Writers' Workshop (Dey House)
507 North Clinton Street, Iowa City, Iowa

In one class at Iowa in the early 70’s, there was T.C. Boyle, Allan Gurganus, Ron Hansen, Jane Smiley, Richard Bausch, all of them taught by John Cheever. And they couldn’t be more different in style.

Smith, Dinitia. “Director of a Noted Writers’ Workshop Is Stepping Down.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 Aug. 2004, www.nytimes.com/2004/08/30/arts/director-of-a-noted-writers-workshop-is-stepping-down.html.

Jane Smiley (1949) was born in Los Angeles, California. After getting her BA at Vassar College in 1971, she traveled in Europe for a year, working on an archeological dig and sightseeing, then came to Iowa City where she subsequently earned an MA (1975), MFA (1976), and PhD (1978) at the University of Iowa. In 1981, she went to work at Iowa State University, in Ames, where she taught until 1996.

Smiley’s best-selling novel ‘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. In 1995 she wrote her sole television script, produced for an episode of ‘Homicide: Life on the Street’. Her novella ‘The Age of Grief’ was made into the 2002 film ‘The Secret Lives of Dentists’.


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