Elizabeth Spencer (1921-2019) was regarded as one of America’s most outstanding fiction writers.
Spencer was born in Carrollton, Mississippi, in 1921 to a storytelling and book-loving family in a community steeped in the oral traditions of the South, and subsequently set many of her works in the hill country and deltas of Mississippi and Louisiana.
The author of nine novels, many fine short stories, and the famous novella The Light in the Piazza, Spencer has received the Award of Merit Medal for the Short Story from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, of which she is a member. She has also been awarded the Cleanth Brooks Medal by the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. Many of her stories and short fiction were collected, along with six new stories, in The Southern Woman (2001), published to wide critical acclaim.
Spencer published a new collection of short stories, Starting Over, in 2014 (Liveright Publishing Corporation). One of the stories in this book, “On the Hill,” was called “one of the best stories I’ve ever read” by Malcolm Jones in the New York Times Book Review.
In 2020, the non-profit Library of America, responsible for preserving essential national texts by the likes of Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, will add Elizabeth Spencer to its pantheon.
Click here for her obituary in The New York Times.
The Light in the Piazza and Other Italian Tales (University Press of Mississippi, 1996):
Watch Elizabeth Spencer read from her story “A Southern Landscape” at the 2010 Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Sewanee, TN:
(Courtesy of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference)
Watch a preview of the Arena Stage production of the musical, The Light in the Piazza, in Crystal City, VA, adapted from Elizabeth Spencer’s novella of the same name:
(Courtesy of Arena Stage)