Author Madison Smartt Bell was born and raised near Nashville and attended Ensworth School and Montgomery Bell Academy before going to Princeton University, where he studied in the creative writing program, working with, among others, George Garrett and William Goyen. He graduated in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. After a year in New York City, where he lived in the heart of Brooklyn and worked as a sound technician for an Italian television crew and as a security guard at a Greenwich Village boutique, Bell attended Hollins College and received an M.A. in English and Creative Writing in 1981.
Bell has taught at a number of institutions including Johns Hopkins, the Iowa Writers Workshop, the Poetry Center at the Ninety-second Street YMHA, and Goucher College, where he was awarded the Chair of Distinguished Achievement in 1995. Among his other honors are the Lillian Smith Award (1989), Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and nominations as a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. He was named by Granta magazine as one of “the best American novelists under 40” in 1996. His short stories have been highly praised and widely anthologized, having been selected four times for the annual Best American Short Stories. He has also published essays, criticism, book reviews, and journalism in a variety of newspapers and national magazines. Bell's books have been translated into eight languages, and all but Save Me, Joe Louis (1993) have been published in Britain. His work has earned respectful critical attention and high praise for its energy and artistry. Bell is married to the poet Elizabeth Spires, and they have one daughter.
Beginning with the publication of The Washington Square Ensemble (novel) in 1983, Bell has produced nine novels, two collections of stories, a nonfiction book, The History of the Owen Graduate School of Management (1988), and an anthology-textbook, Narrative Design (1997), as well as a dozen Readers' Guides for the Franklin Library dealing with authors from Aristotle to Henry James and Mark Twain. He has also written a number of screenplays.
Bell is clearly a southern writer by inheritance and in his love for language, emphasis on storytelling, fondness for eccentric characters, and sense of the mysterious power of place. Although Bell has written both novels and stories set in the South, most of his work is placed elsewhere. The Washington Square Ensemble (1983), Waiting for the End of the World (1985), Straight Cut (1986), and The Year of Silence (1987) are chiefly set in a vividly realized New York City; Doctor Sleep (1991) takes place in London, Ten Indians (1996) in Baltimore, and the widely praised All Souls Rising (1995) in historical Haiti. He is one of the most effective contemporary writers at evoking the dingy, dangerous milieu of inner-city America. A second volume on the Haitian slave revolts of the eighteenth century, Master of the Crossroads, was published in 2000.
Prolific, imaginative, brilliant, and compassionate, Bell has already created an impressive body of work by any standards and seems more than likely to become a major figure in contemporary American literature.