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Landscapes of the Heart: The Elizabeth Spencer Story

Elizabeth Spencer

Elizabeth Spencer

Three years before Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame inductee Elizabeth Spencer published The Voice at the Back Door, one of “the earliest novels recounting racial tension in the South.”

Spencer was nominated for the 1957 Pulitzer Prize. But instead of awarding what is arguably literature’s most distinguished honor to a female writing truthfully and unblinkingly about the small-town American South, no Pulitzer Prize in fiction was given that year.

Or so the story goes.

Now a new generation of readers can appreciate the work of one of North Carolina’s literary giants through a new documentary, Landscapes of the Heart: The Elizabeth Spencer Story. This film offers a window into an extraordinary author’s life and work, viewed through the prism of her Southern lineage. It features archival photography and film clips, re-enactments, and interviews with many of today’s most important writers of the American South.

Bookmarks, in collaboration with RiverRun, will screen Landscapes of the Heart on Tuesday, April 8, at 6:30 pm, at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem. This event will be free and open to the public.

Elizabeth 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 have been collected, including in The Southern Woman (2001), published to wide critical acclaim.

Now in her nineties, 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.

For more information about Landscapes of the Heart, click here.

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