At twenty-six years old, Kaye Gibbons wrote her first novel, Ellen Foster. Praised as an extraordinary debut, Eudora Welty said that "the honesty of thought and eye and feeling and word" mark the work of this talented writer, and Walker Percy said, "Ellen Foster is a Southern Holden Caulfield, tougher perhaps, as funny . . . a breathtaking first novel."
Ellen Foster was recently honored in London as one of the Twenty Greatest Novels of the Twentieth Century. In 1997 the novel won the Sue Kaufman Prize for first fiction from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Special Citation from the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, the Louis D. Rubin Writing Award, and other major awards. Now a classic, it is taught in high schools and universities, often teamed with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The book has been widely translated, frequently performed in theatres throughout the United States and was produced by Hallmark Hall of Fame for CBS, starring Emily Harris and Jenna Malone.
Published in 1989, A Virtuous Woman also received wide praise in the United States and abroad. The San Francisco Chronicle called the work "a perfect gem of a novel." Both Ellen Foster and A Virtuous Woman were chosen together as Oprah Book Club selections in 1998, leading the New York Times bestseller list for many weeks.
In 1989 Gibbons received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to write a third novel, A Cure for Dreams, which was published in 1991. This novel won the 1990/PEN Revson Award for the best work of fiction published by an American writer under thirty-five years of age, as well as the Heartland Prize for fiction from the Chicago Tribune, and other awards. In the novel she used transcripts from the Federal Writers' Project of the Great Depression. She said she discovered for the first time "the voice of ordinary men and women as a pure form of art and force of nature" and realized those voices would carry her through every novel she wrote.
When Charms for the Easy Life was published in 1993, it became a New York Times bestseller and prompted a Time magazine reviewer to say, "some people might give up their second-born to write as well as Kaye Gibbons." This novel takes place between 1910 and 1945 in the home of three generations of highly intelligent and forthright women, and was filmed by Showtime Productions, aired in October 2001, starring Mimi Rogers and Gina Rowlands. Sights Unseen (1995) was also a national bestseller and a winner of the Critics Choice Award from the San Francisco Chronicle.
The following year, G. P. Putnam's Sons published her sixth novel On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon, "a book of saints, sinners, and sorrows offering much pleasure," said one reviewer. Readers agree that it is "another cause for accolades" and many regarded it as her most brilliant to date.
In 1997 Gibbons was awarded a Knighthood from the French Minister of Culture for her contributions to French literature. In 2001 she spoke at the Pompidou Center in Paris in what one journalist called "an act of sustained brilliance." She has read and lectured to sold-out audiences from New York to Seattle. With domestic sales of more than 4.2 million copies and numerous worldwide translations, she was designated "one of the most lyrical writers working today" by Entertainment Weekly and was described by one columnist as "a genius-Madonna in a black leather jacket" and by another as "a brilliant woman with old-fashioned star quality, rare."
Most recently, she was invited to become a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a most significant honor. She has received the Oklahoma Homecoming Award and was made a member of the YWCA Academy of Women. She was also chosen to write the introduction to the 2000 Modern Library Edition of Kate Chopin's The Awakening and Other Stories.
She also completed The Other Side of Air, which was left unfinished after the death of her close friend, the writer Jeanne Braselton, in early 2003. The sequel to Ellen Foster, The Life All Around Me By Ellen Foster, was published in 2005.
Kaye Gibbons was born in 1960 in Nash County, North Carolina, on Bend of the River Road. She attended North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying American and English literature. Gibbons lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her three daughters, Mary, Leslie, and Louise.