Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) was born on Egdon Heath in Dorset, near Dorchester, England. A delicate child, he was taught at home by his mother before attending grammar school. At sixteen, Hardy was apprenticed to an architect before becoming one himself. For several years, architecture was his profession, although poetry, which he wrote in his spare time, would prove his first and last literary love. By 1874, he was convinced that he could earn his living as an author and retired from architecture, married, and devoted himself to writing. An extremely productive novelist, Hardy wrote an important book every year or two. In 1896, disturbed by the public outcry over taboo subjects broached in two of his greatest novels, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, he announced that he would never write fiction again--he would write only poetry. In later years, he was awarded many honors, and upon his death, he was buried with much ceremony in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey. It was as a poet that he wished to be remembered, but today critics regard his novels as the more memorable contributions to English literature. Jane Smiley is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of more than twenty books, including the novels A Thousand Acres, Moo, Private Life, and Some Luck, as well as Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, a study of fiction. Among the honors she's received is the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. Jeffrey Meyers has published forty-five books and 630 articles on literature, film, and art. A distinguished biographer, he has written lives of Hemingway, Lawrence, Conrad, Poe, Fitzgerald, Frost, Orwell, Bogart, and Modigliani. He has had twenty-five works translated into twelve languages and published on six continents. He is one of ten Americans who are Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature, and in 2005, he received an Award in Literature "to honor exceptional achievement" from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.