From her home on Screamer Mountain overlooking Clayton, Georgia, Lillian Smith wrote and spoke openly against racism and segregation long before the civil rights era. A conservatory-trained music teacher who left the profession to assume charge of her family's girls' camp in Rabun County, Smith began her literary career writing for a journal that she co-edited with friend and companion Paula Snelling, successively titled Pseudopodia (1936), The North Georgia Review (1937-1941), and South Today (1942-1945).
In 1944 Smith catapulted to fame - and controversy - with the publication of her novel Strange Fruit- the tragic story of a white man, a black woman, murder, and a lynching in a small Southern town. Its frank language and sexual undercurrents created a climate of controversy, which lead to Strange Fruit's being banned in Boston for obscenity. Smith wrote later about the controversy that "the white Supremacy crowd were writing editorials and reviews that Strange Fruit advocates the mongrelizing of the white race." Buoyed by the notoriety and attendant publicity, Strange Fruit went on to sell well over three million copies and was translated into fourteen languages.
Lillian Smith's legacy extends far beyond the one book's sensation. For more than three decades, in fiction and nonfiction, Smith developed her ongoing theme - that while segregation demeaned and destroyed the lives of blacks, it also poisoned and killed the souls of whites. She was a frequent and eloquent contributor to periodicals such as Saturday Review, Life, New Republic, Nation, and the New York Times, and her name has become synonymous with outstanding writing about Georgia and the rest of the American South. Since 1968, the Southern Regional Council's "Lillian Smith Book Awards" have honored serious, well-crafted, artistic and scholarly books that contribute to a better understanding of human rights and other social issues.
Photo courtesy of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
The following titles may be found in the Hall of Fame Library:
Strange Fruit. New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944.
Sallsam Frukt. Stockholm: Bonniers, 1945.
Selsom Frukt . Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 1947.
Killers of the Dream. New York: Norton, 1949.
The Journey. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1954.
Now Is the Time. New York: Viking, 1955.
One Hour . New York: Harcourt, 1959.
En Enda Timme. Stockholm: Norstedt, 1962.
Memory of a Large Christmas. New York: Norton, 1962.
Killers of the Dream. New York: Doubleplay, 1963.
Integration: What You Can Do About It. New York, 1964.
Our Faces, Our Words. New York: Norton, 1964.
The Winner Names the Age: A Collection of Writings . New York: Norton, 1978.
Strange Fruit. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1985.
How Am I to be Heard?: Letters of Lillian Smith. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
Killers of the Dream. New introduction by Margaret Rose Gladney. New York: Norton, 1994.
One Hour. New introduction by Margaret Rose Gladney. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 1994.
Memory of a Large Christmas. Athens, GA: University of Georgia, 1996.
Now is the Time. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi, 2004.
今こそその時 [Now Is the Time. Japanese.] Tokyo: Sairyūsha, 2008/
A Lillian Smith Reader. Ed. by Margaret Rose Gladney and Lisa Hodgens. Athens, GA: UGA Press, 2016.
Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia holds large collections of Lillian Smith's manuscripts, personal correspondence from the 1950s and 1960s, audio tapes, and photographs.
The University of Florida Libraries' Department of Special and Area Studies Collections holds Lillian Smith's correspondence files 1936-1949, in addition to some manuscript materials as well as materials related to the journal she and Paula Snelling founded, The South Today.
The Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library of Emory University, Atlanta, houses a small collection of Lillian Smith's correspondance in their Lillian Eugenia Smith Collection.