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A Novel Approach

Author Jane Smiley to deliver Distinguished Humanities Lecture


On October 20, Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist, Jane Smiley will give the Idaho Humanities Council's Ninth Annual Distinguished Lecture at Boise's Centre on the Grove. She will discuss the principles behind her most recent book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, which was the culmination of reading 100 novels and what she learned from them, including the pleasures of reading, character development and form, as well as the affect that novels have had on her own life.

Smiley is unpretentious about writers and the writing process. Even though she views writing as complex communication, she also seems to feel that it is something everyone should try. With that in mind, she is free to reveal her own writing habits, her theories about the creative process and the struggle through her own of writer's block.

It's hard to imagine that Smiley ever lacked for the right word. As the author of 11 works of fiction, including A Thousand Acres, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, three works of nonfiction, not to mention her famous letters to The New York Times and innumerable magazine articles, Smiley is prolific. But, in October of 2001, just weeks after 9/11, Smiley found herself in a crisis. She couldn't write. And as any writer knows, when writer's block kicks in, despair follows. To counteract the despair, Smiley came up with a novel approach: the novel. She set aside her current work and she decided to read. She read 100 novels and the resultant book is meant to be a guide for readers and writers as well as a literary memoir, not a canon. "One reason I didn't conceive the list as being any sort of 'best of' list was that to understand the nature of the novel, sometimes the reader has to read novels that don't work for her and think about why they don't work--representative lists, unlike 'my favorite' lists, have to include uncongenial works ..." Smiley writes, "There are only novels that you like or don't like, novels that you feel a kinship with."

Drawing on her 20-year writing career, her years as a writing instructor and from her tireless reading, Smiley's lecture promises to be informative and enlightening to both readers and writers alike.

October 20, 7 p.m., Ninth Annual Distinguished Humanities Lecture and Dinner, Boise Centre on the Grove. Visit for reservations.