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In 1946, at the age of 41, Janice Holt Giles wrote her first novel. Although it took her only three months to complete the first draft, working at night so as not to conflict with her secretarial job, it was another four years before The Enduring Hills was published. Three years later, when her sixth novel appeared, Janice Holt Giles's works had accumulated sales of nearly two million copies. Between 1950 and 1975 she wrote twenty-four books, most of which were bestsellers, regularly reviewed in the New York Times, and selected for inclusion in popular book clubs. Her picture held pride of place in her literary agent's New York office, alongside those of Willa Cather, H.G. Wells, and Edith Wharton, yet until now there has been no biography of this immensely popular American writer.

Humbly professing to be "just a good storyteller," Giles was a keen observer of life with great sensitivity, an ear for language, and a superb imagination. Her artistic achievements become even more remarkable when placed in the context of her often difficult personal struggles. Dianne Watkins Stuart, for years the acknowledged expert on Giles's work, has traced the path of her unique life. Stuart walked around the small house where Giles's brother was born and The Kinta Years (1973) had its origin, wandered through the yard where The Plum Thicket (1954) grew, and made countless trips to Adair County, Kentucky, to trace the trails of the Piney Ridge trilogy (The Enduring Hills, Miss Willie, Tara's Healing) and seek out the day-to-day life of her later years. Stuart's long-anticipated biography provides both a narrative of Giles's life and an in-depth description of the art and commerce of American publishing in the middle years of the century.

Dianne Watkins Stuart is former education curator of the Kentucky Museum and editor of Hello, Janice: The Wartime Letters of Henry Giles.

"Recounts the story of writer Janice Holt Giles who, at age forty-one while working a day job as a secretary, published her first novel about a couple living in Appalachia."—American Literature

"It is interesting and inspiring to learn of the hardship Giles endured to become a writer, and that writing was as important as breathing to her"—Booklist

"Stuart's Janice Holt Giles, thoroughly researched and beautifully written, is the definitive literary biography of one of Kentucky's and America's finest writers of historical fiction. To paraphrase the brilliant and multitalented subject of this book, Stuart's biography is enduring as Kentucky's hills and a great deal better than plumb."—Bowling Green Daily News

"When the last word of the biography is read, the reader feels very close to Janice Holt Giles."—Columbia Magazine

"An engrossing, engaging and illuminating biography."—Filson Club History Quarterly

"Stuart’s knowledge of Giles’s work, both the stories themselves and the effort and anguish Giles exerted in completing them, is impressive."—Journal of Appalachian Studies

"Stuart has written a biography about a truly remarkable woman who overcame numerous obstacles to become one of the state's most beloved authors."—Kentucky Monthly

"Now, readers can gain new insight into one of the state's best-selling authors, thanks to the sure-handed study, Janice Holt Giles."—Lexington Herald-Leader

"In this admiring biography, Stuart draws from Giles's personal papers to trace her progression from observer to chronicler."—Library Journal

"Stuart has covered every aspect of Giles' life — the good times and the bad times."—The Voice-Tribune

"The biography Giles justly deserves."—Tulsa World

"The fascinating and inspiring story of one of Kentucky's most successful writers—one that was popular during her lifetime and continues to be one of our most read authors. Watkins has recreated her life, one filled with great drama, remarkable successes, and devastating failures. Above all, this is a book about a fully-lived life."—Wade Hall

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Janice Holt Giles, Kentucky, Kentucky authors, American novelists


Literature in English, North America

Janice Holt Giles: A Writer's Life
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