Jane Smiley, Author of the Academic Novel 'Moo,' Returns to Teaching

June 16, 2014

The novelist Jane Smiley did not foresee working as a professor again after she retired from the English faculty of Iowa State University in 1996. But the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Thousand Acres, the academic farce Moo, and other books will become a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside on July 1.

The student demographics and the design of Riverside’s creative-writing program attracted her to the job, she said in an email.

"Diverse students have diverse points of view, and write diverse stories. A program like the one at Riverside gives a voice to any student who wants one," she wrote. Ms. Smiley, who is 64, says she has always favored teaching at public universities because they "cast the widest net."

More than half of Riverside’s undergraduate students are the first in their families to seek a bachelor’s degree, and more than half come from low-income families.

Ms. Smiley will join Juan Felipe Herrera, California’s poet laureate, and other authors in the creative-writing department, the only one in the University of California system that offers a bachelor’s degree.

Last fall, 280 undergraduates there were creative-writing majors, and the department had 32 M.F.A. students.

Ms. Smiley says she learned about the opening from Tom Lutz, a friend who is a professor in the department as well as the founder and editor in chief of the nonprofit Los Angeles Review of Books. She went to the campus to see what it was like and how hard it would be to travel there from her home near Monterey, more than 350 miles away, and then followed the usual procedure to apply for the job.

"When our dean, who had been interested in building on the strength of our creative-writing department, asked me who I thought would make a great hire, I mentioned Jane right away," Mr. Lutz says.

He and Ms. Smiley met when he was teaching at the University of Iowa and she at Iowa State. When Mr. Lutz created the book review, he brought Ms. Smiley on as a contributing editor. He says he was immediately impressed by her deep interest in the history of literature. Her 2005 book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, gave him a sense "that the teaching impulse was still in her," he says.

She will teach two courses a year, beginning in January.

At Riverside, she hopes to meet new people who will be part of the future of creative writing.

"Both the students and most of the teachers are younger than I am, and in some cases, younger than my kids," she says, "so this will be a good way to experience what is to come."