Birmingham native Sena Jeter Naslund (1942- ) is the author of five novels and two collections of short stories. She is best known for literature that centers on real or fictional characters from the past, bringing to life and exploring the inner lives of individuals living in complex times. Her ambitious and imaginative work illuminates the rich complexities of historical moments, inviting readers to revisit the important issues of important times and places.
Sena Kathryn Jeter was born in Birmingham on June 28, 1942, to Flora Lee Sims Jeter, a music teacher, and Marvin Luther Jeter, a physician who died when she was 15 years old. She has two older brothers, both published writers, Marvin D. Jeter, author of Edward Palmer's Arkansaw Mounds and John Sims Jeter, author of the novel And the Angels Sang.
As a child, Naslund was immersed in both reading and creating stories at Norwood Elementary School. She wrote a novel about pioneers at age nine and published her first short story in the Phillips High School newspaper, The Mirror. Enthusiastic about classical music, she played the cello in the Birmingham Youth and Alabama Pops orchestras. The University of Alabama offered her a music scholarship, but she felt she lacked sufficient talent to make a career of playing the cello. Therefore, she declined the offer from Alabama and entered Birmingham-Southern College, where she studied English and creative writing and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1964, after winning the B. B. Comer Medal in English. While at Birmingham-Southern, Jeter published short fiction, poetry, and literary criticism in the school's literary magazine, The Quad; wrote, directed and produced a full-length historical tragedy, "Boadicea: Queen of the Iceni"; and attended the prestigious Bread Loaf Writer's Conference at Vermont's Middlebury College.
For her graduate studies, Naslund was accepted into one of the nation's most prestigious creative writing programs, the Iowa Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa. There, she earned both an M.A. and a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature in 1971. During her time there, she married and divorced James Michael Callaghan. She then taught creative writing at the University of Montana for one year before accepting a position in the creative writing program at the University of Louisville in 1973. That same year, she married author and playwright Alan J. Naslund in 1973; their daughter, Flora Kathryn Naslund, was born in 1980. The marriage ended in divorce in 1991, and she married John C. Morrison in 1995.
Naslund served as the director of the University of Louisville's creative writing program for 12 years. She also has been a visiting professor of creative writing at Indiana University-Bloomington (1985-1986) and Vermont College (1982-2000) while continuing to teach at the University of Louisville. At Louisville, Naslund taught undergraduate and graduate writing and literature courses and founded The Louisville Review, a literary journal, in 1976. In celebration of its twentieth year of publication, she established the Fleur-de-Lis Press, which publishes the first works of outstanding authors whose work has appeared in The Louisville Review.
Naslund first published professionally in 1972, when her story "Julius Geissler" appeared in The Iowa Review. Her first book, a collection of contemporary short stories titled Ice Skating at the North Pole, was published in 1989 by Roger Williams University's Ampersand Press. In 1993, she published two novels: The Animal Way to Love, a contemporary novel, and the first of her historical novels, Sherlock in Love, in which she imagines unexplored biographical elements of literature's most famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Naslund continues the theme of exploring alternate readings of famous or literary characters in 1999's The Disobedience of Water: Stories and Novellas, which includes several pieces set in Alabama.
Naslund also likes to tell the untold story, particularly of women who may have been marginalized or misunderstood, and she first fully explored this theme in her novel Ahab's Wife; or, The Star Gazer, also published in 1999. In it, she constructs the life of a character only referred to in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, and reminds us that mid-nineteenth century women, too, were struggling to find meaning in an increasingly complex world. The novel was selected by Time magazine and Book Sense as one of the five best novels of 1999, was chosen by the New York Times as a Notable Book, and named a Best Book by Publisher's Weekly, and it was a featured selection of the Book of the Month Club.
In her subsequent best seller, Four Spirits (2003), Naslund presents a fictional work set amidst the period when four African American school girls were killed in the racially motivated bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham during the civil rights era. The novel was also selected as a Notable Book by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, and Louisville Courier-Journal. Her most recent novel, Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (also a national best seller in 2006), employs fiction to shed new light on the vilified queen of France during the French Revolution.
In 2005, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher named Naslund Poet Laureate of Kentucky. At the University of Louisville, she has been awarded the University Distinguished Teaching Professor Award and the President's Award for Outstanding Creative Activity. The Alabama Writers' Forum and Alabama Writers Symposium awarded Naslund the Harper Lee Award for Alabama's Distinguished Writer in 2001. Naslund also received the Alabama Author Award from the Alabama Library Association in 2001 and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction Award in 2003-2004. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Arts Council, and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.
Naslund stays connected with her home state. In 2003, she served jointly as Pascal Vacca Professor, along with her husband, physicist John C. Morrision, at the University of Montevallo. At the behest of the director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 2004, Naslund collaborated with a fellow graduate of Phillips High School, Elaine Hughes, a faculty member of the University of Montevallo, on a stage adaptation of Four Spirits. In 2005, Naslund was a keynote speaker at the Eugene Walters Writer's Conference on the campus of the University of South Alabama, and she has spoken at Jacksonsville State University, the University of North Alabama, Spring Hill College, and Huntingdon College. In 2006, Naslund returned to her alma mater as part of a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Birmingham-Southern College, where she participated in a discussion of Four Spirits with incoming students during orientation; she also spoke at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Naslund appeared as a featured speaker at an open-panel discussion at the University of West Alabama in 2007. Naslund served as the Visiting Eminent Scholar in the Humanities at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) for the spring 2008 semester. During her tenure there, the UAH Theatre Department staged a production of Four Spirits. In 2011, Naslund was awarded the Governor's Arts Award by the Alabama State Council on the Arts.
Naslund lives in Louisville with her husband. Naslund is currently a Distinguished Teaching Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of Louisville, as well as the director of Spalding University's brief-residency Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing. She continues as editor of The Louisville Review and of the Fleur-de-Lis Press.
Works by Sena Jeter Naslund
Ice Skating at the North Pole: Stories (1989)
Sherlock In Love: A Novel (1993)
The Animal Way to Love: A Novel (1993)
Ahab's Wife: or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel (1999)
The Disobedience of Water: Stories and Novellas (1999)
Four Spirits: A Novel (2003)
Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (2006)
Adam & Eve (2010)
University of Alabama
Published January 20, 2009
Last updated August 18, 2011