Artist Bio

Elizabeth Spencer

(Bio as of January 2004)

A “small-town Southerner, Elizabeth Spencer was born in rural Carrollton, Mississippi, and published her first book, Fire in the Morning, in 1948. This well­-received debut, one of her three “Mississippi novels, was followed by This Crooked Way, The Voice at the Back Door The Light in the Piazza, Knights & Dragons, No Place for an Angel, The Salt Line and The Night Travellers. Over the course of a career span­ning fifty years, she has also published seven short story collections and a play, For Lease or Sale, which was produced in 1989 at PlayMakers Repertory Company in North Carolina. Her memoir, Landscapes of the Heart, was published in 1998.

Spencer’s fiction has been rooted in place: her native Mississippi, Italy (where she lived for six years in the 1950s), Montreal (where she settled in 1958 and made her home for nearly three decades) and, again, the South, where she returned in 1986 and continues to live.

“The first time I saw Italy was in August of 1949,” Spencer writes in her introduc­tion to The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales. “Italians were glad to be alive in a life that was possible to live, and their gladness filled the air and reached out to all comers. All the dancing and romancing, the easy friendships and dates, meetings and partings, may seem frivolous to talk about—though there’s not much wrong with fri­volity, God knows—but it was more than that one felt in France and Italy in those days. It had come out of the inferno just endured; it was a resurrection.”

Set in Italy, primarily Florence, in 1953, The Light in the Piazza—written in Montreal during a snowstorm in the winter of 1959—fully captures that sense of resur­rection, the breath of life that infused the post-war years. The first work to bring Elizabeth Spencer widespread acclaim, it was first published in The New Yorker maga­zine, which devoted an entire issue to its publication, and released with minor changes as a novel in 1960. A finalist for the National Book Award in 1961, it sold two million copies, has never been out of print and became the basis for a film of the same name. The novel is now available in Spencer’s most recent collection, The Southern Woman: New and Selected Fiction (The Modern Library).

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