Poignant stories of race, gender and sexuality during a defining period of American history

In 1957 Elizabeth Spencer fired a shot across the bow with “The Voice at the Back Door.”  Even though her best-known work is likely her novella, “The Light in the Piazza,” which was adapted into a 1962 film starring Olivia de Havilland and George Hamilton. In recent years it won six Tony awards as a Broadway musical. Her distinguished career includes nine novels and seven books of short stories, including 2001's “The Southern Woman."

An extraordinary woman still writing today

Born in 1921, Elizabeth Spencer was reared in Carrollton, Mississippi in the midst of the Great Depression. Throughout her adolescence, she observed first-hand the racial and gender inequities of the American South. It was this intolerance that would eventually drive a wedge between Elizabeth and her family, especially her father, a deeply religious and conservative Mississippi entrepreneur. These experiences soon led her to create a new life as a single, young woman in 1950s Italy. It was in Rome where she would write some of the period’s most poignant portraits of race and gender in America.

“Landscapes of the Heart” is a documentary film about the life of this extraordinary woman who’s still writing in her 90s. Spencer’s eyes twinkle like a schoolgirl as she vividly recounts her life story and the many decades she lived abroad in Rome and Montreal, away from the American South. A life spent in exile from the discontent of family and a literary community indifferent to her non-traditional writings about the South. Her story is filled with vivid memories and personal reflections about race, class, and the changing roles of women in society during a defining mid-century in American history.

This film is also a story of courage and redemption. Hear voices from the literary community chronicle how, decades later, her works are finally receiving critical recognition and further study. Interviews with authors Allan Gurganus, Lee Smith, Hodding Carter, Randall Kenan, and Pulitzer-winner Douglas Blackmon, among others, share how her early works are viewed as some of the most “dangerous” and “important” literature to come from a female writer, or any writer, in the American South during the 1950s and 1960s.