Southern novelist and social critic Lillian Smith was born in Florida in 1897. She was the eighth of ten children. Her family was comfortably middle class for the majority of her childhood, but in 1915 her father lost his business and her family relocated to Georgia and started Laurel Falls Girls Camp, an educational camp for girls.
Smith spent a few years studying music, then moved home to help her parents manage a hotel in 1919. In 1922, she moved to China, where she was the music director at a Methodist girls' school.
In 1925, Smith returned to the U.S. to care for her ailing father. She then took the position of director of the Laurel Falls Camp, where she remained for 23 years. After her father died in 1930, Smith was the caretaker for her mother, as well as running the educational camp.
In the early 1930s, Smith began a lifelong partnership with a counselor at her camp, Paula Snelling. The two started a literary journal, Pseudopodia, in 1936. The journal was very popular and continued publishing throughout the early 1940s, under the name South Today. In 1945, Smith ceased publication of the journal in order to focus on her novel writing. Her first published novel, Strange Fruit, published in 1944, was very successful. She followed it with 1949's essay compilation, Killers of the Dream, 1954's The Journey, 1955's Now Is the Time, 1959's One Hour, 1962's Memory of a Large Christmas, and 1964's Our Faces, Our Words, as well as an essay collection and a collection of letters in the 1970s. All of Smith's novels took on volatile Southern social topics, including interracial relationships, the evils of segregation, McCarthyism, and non-violent civil rights resistance.
Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1950s and battled it for many years. She died in 1966.