Lee Smith, an acclaimed author of Southern fiction, will be at the downtown Left Bank Books Saturday, Sept. 27, from 3 to 5 p.m. to talk and sign copies of her books including her most recent, “Guests on Earth.” The public is warmly invited to this free event, but space is limited and reservations are required.

Smith has captivated critics and readers for more than 45 years with prose the New York Times Book Review hailed as nothing less than masterful. She is the author of 16 novels including the bestselling “Fair and Tender Ladies” and “The Last Girls,” winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award.

The heroine of “Guests on Earth” is Evalina Toussaint, an orphaned child who is banished to a mental hospital in Asheville, N.C., where she finds herself in the midst of a wild cast of characters including jazz-age icon Zelda Fitzgerald. It is 1936, and Highland Hospital is under the direction of real-life psychiatrist Robert S. Carroll, whose innovative program for mental and nervous disorders included strange and terrifying shock treatments. Mrs. Carroll takes young Evalina under her wing to teach her music, and the young piano prodigy bears witness to the lives of her fellow patients over the next 12 years, culminating in the mysterious fire of 1948 that took the life of Zelda and nine other women.

Smith writes in her acknowledgments that she has her “own personal knowledge of the landscape of this novel. My father was a patient here in the fifties. And I am especially grateful to Highland Hospital for the helpful years my son, Josh, spent there in the 1980s, in both inpatient and outpatient situations.” She became fascinated by Fitzgerald’s art and her life within that institution, and the mystery of her tragic death.

Smith grew up among a family of storytellers in Grundy, Va., a coal-mining town in Blue Ridge Mountains. Her father operated a dime store and her mother was a home economics teacher. She wrote her first novel at age 8, on her mother’s stationery and it featured as main characters “my two favorite people at that time: Adlai Stevenson and Jane Russell. In my novel, they fell in love and went West together in a covered wagon. Once there, they became — inexplicably — Mormons!”

Smith honed her craft at Hollins College in Roanoke, Va., where she and fellow student Annie Dillard were go-go dancers for an all-girl rock band, the Virginia Woolfs. Smith lists Virginia Woolf’s “To The Lighthouse” as “the perfect novel” and is an avid reader of poetry.

Smith’s Southern charm, grace and quick wit make her a very popular speaker at national book events and literary seminars. Copies of “Guests on Earth,” as well as several of her other novels, are on sale at Left Bank Books, 109 Church St. To make a reservation or pre-order copies of Smith’s books, call the bookshop at 338-9009 or email leftbank@myfairpoint.net.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.