Friday, August 22, 2014

Happy Birthday, Annie Proulx

This woman can flat out write. You may want to go where she can take you.

As this piece from The Writer's Almanac points out, she started out writing about fishing and hunting.

It's the birthday of Annie Proulx(books by this author) born Edna Annie Proulx in Norwich, Connecticut (1935). As a young woman, she lived in Vermont, published a small newspaper, and supported herself writing how-to books about things like apple cider and fence-building. Some of her early stories were about hunting and fishing, since she was passionate about those pursuits; the only outlet for them was men's outdoor magazines, though, and the editors made her publish them as E.A. Proulx, believing men wouldn't read them if they knew a woman had written them. "The ones who suggested it were from a small Vermont publication," she told Paris Review, "and I got back this awful letter, full of bad spelling and clumsy syntax, suggesting that I should change my name to initials. Very tiresome." She put up with it for a while, but then started writing as "E. Annie" and then "Annie."

She went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for her novel The Shipping News, and to win fame and notoriety for her short story Brokeback Mountain. The Shipping News is well worth a read, but I recommend you begin with her early work.

Her first novel, Postcards, received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. It's the story of a homeless man for whom the length and breadth of the West becomes the only home he knows.

Then dig into her short stories. This is my favorite collection, stories about real-life Wyoming. This is funny, gritty, heartbreaking, cowboy boots-on-the-ground, hands-in-the-dirt writing. It includes Brokeback Mountain.

The writing is so spare and clean that you feel stripped down to the essential core after reading it. Here's a quote from Close Range:

“You stand there, braced. Cloud shadows race over the buff rock stacks as a projected film, casting a queasy, mottled ground rash. The air hisses and it is no local breeze but the great harsh sweep of wind from the turning of the earth. The wild country--indigo jags of mountain, grassy plain everlasting, tumbled stones like fallen cities, the flaring roll of sky--provokes a spiritual shudder. It is like a deep note that cannot be heard but is felt, it is like a claw in the gut...
...Other cultures have camped here a while and disappeared. Only earth and sky matter. Only the endlessly repeated flood of morning light. You begin to see that God does not owe us much beyond that.” 

Finally, here is some wisdom for writers from Annie Proulx:

“What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, 'Write what you know.' It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don't develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one.” 

For a New York Times piece about Proulx from 1994 after she had won the Pulitzer for The Shipping News, click HERE.

For the Wikipedia entry on Proulx, click HERE.

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