Photo by Tom Eblen.

Inducted 2020:

Born: June 28, 1942, Birmingham, Alabama

Sena Jeter Naslund of Louisville is the author of several internationally bestselling novels. She also is an award-winning teacher who helped start and nurture two influential university creative writing programs in Kentucky.

Sena Kathryn Jeter is the youngest of three children and only daughter of Flora Lee Sims Jeter, a music teacher who played piano and violin, and Marvin Luther Jeter, a physician who died when she was 15 years old.

A talented cellist, she gave up a music scholarship to the University of Alabama to study English at Birmingham-Southern College. Naslund graduated in 1964 and was accepted into the prestigious Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Middlebury, Vermont. She earned an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.

Naslund’s first book, a collection of short stories, Ice Skating at the North Pole, came out in 1989. She published her first two novels in 1993, The Animal Way to Love, and Sherlock in Love. Then she got a whale of an idea: a take on Moby Dickthrough the eyes of Captain Ahab’s wife, who rated only a mention in Herman Melville’s classic novel.

Ahab’s Wife; or, The Star-Gazer became a bestseller when published in 1999, the same year as her second collection of short fiction, The Disobedience of Water: Stories and Novellas. Both books are about human relationships and emotions, touching on themes Naslund has explored many times in her fiction: the quest for compatible relationships and a questioning of spiritual and philosophical issues.

The success of Ahab’s Wifetook Naslund around the world for readings and signings. Then she decided her next novel must keep a promise she made to herself four decades earlier in Alabama. The result was Four Spirits (2003), her second bestseller. It weaves together the lives of racists and civil rights crusaders, blacks and whites around the 1963 bombing at Birmingham’s 16thStreet Baptist Church, which killed four girls and wounded 14 other worshipers.

Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (2006), was Naslund’s attempt to “set the record straight” about the queen who lost her head during the French Revolution. That book was followed in 2010 by another historical novel of sorts, Adam & Eve, which explores the impact of science and the way people interpret sacred texts.

Naslund’s most recent novel, The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman (2013), brings historical fiction home — literally. The novel-within-a-novel tells the story of 18thcentury painter Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun, a survivor of the French Revolution who was widely disliked for her sympathetic portraits of Marie Antoinette, and a fictional contemporary writer living in Naslund’s home on Old Louisville’s St. James Court.

After teaching for a year at the University of Montana, Naslund joined the University of Louisville’s English faculty in 1973. She was director of Louisville’s creative writing program for a dozen years and found time to be a visiting professor of creative writing at Indiana University and Vermont College.

Naslund helped start and was program director of Spalding University’s acclaimed Low Residency MFA in Writing program. She also founded Louisville Reviewand Fleur-de-Lis Press, which publishes the first books of authors whose work has been featured in the literary journal. She fully retired from teaching in 2017.

Selected bibliography

Ice Skating at the North Pole: Stories, Bristol, RI: Ampersand Press, 1989.
The Animal Way to Love, Bristol, RI: Ampersand Press, 1993.
Sherlock in Love: A Novel, Boston: David Godine, 1993.
The Disobedience of Water: Stories and Novellas, Boston: David Godine, 1999.
Ahab’s Wife; or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel, New York: William Morrow, 1999.
Four Spirits: A Novel, New York: William Morrow, 2003.
Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, New York: William Morrow, 2006.
Adam & Eve, New York: William Morrow,2010.
The Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman, New York: William Morrow, 2013.

Click image to read Tom Eblen’s interview with Sena Jeter Naslund.

Bookmark: Sena Jeter Naslund from The Center for Public Television on Vimeo.

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