Understanding Lee Smith
Johnson begins with a biographical sketch of Smith's upbringing in Appalachia, her formal education, and her career. She explicates the themes and stylistic qualities that have come to characterize Smith's writing and outlines the criticism of Smith's work, particularly that which focuses on female subjectivity, artistry, religion, history, and place in her fiction. Too often, Johnson argues, Smith's consistent and powerful messages about artistry, gender roles, and historical discourse are missed or undervalued by readers and critics caught up in her quirky characters and dialogue.
In Understanding Lee Smith, Johnson offers an analysis of Smith's oeuvre chronologically to study her growth as a writer and to highlight major events in her career and the influence they had on her work, including a major shift in the early 1990s to writing about families, communities, and women living in the mountains. Johnson reveals how Smith has refined her talent for creating nuanced voices and a narrative web of multiple perspectives and evolved into a writer of fine literary fiction worthy of critical study.
About the Author
"Johnson's thoroughly researched and readable study covers key themes in Lee Smith's work: sexuality, identity, women's community, insider-outsider dynamics, spirituality, language, mental illness. Tracing Smith's upending of received tropes and stereotypes, Johnson reveals the fiction's narrative complexity as she interweaves close reading, criticism, and Smith's biography into an impressively contextualized analysis."—Rebecca Godwin, Barton College
"In Understanding Lee Smith, Danielle N. Johnson has a strong hold on Smith's fiction's unvarnished openness as well as its sly complexities, and she takes a clear-eyed look at the whole host of 'painful crimes of passion and tragic love stories.' Johnson weaves with skill and sagacity through the wonders of Smith's cosmography, letters and diaries, tongues of fire, church-like mountains, blood-purifying greens, mothers and lovers and old friends and kin, finding deep patterns and brilliant points of light."—Bland Simpson, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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