E(dna) Annie Proulx Biography
Annie Proulx comments:
Nationality: American. Born: Norwich, Connecticut, 1935. Education: University of Vermont, Burlington, B.A. (cum laude), 1969 (Phi Beta Kappa); Sir George Williams University, Montreal, M.A., 1973. Awards: Kress Fellow, Harvard University, Boston, 1974; Vermont Council of the Arts fellowship, 1989, National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1991, Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1992; PEN/Faulkner award, 1993, for Postcards; National Book award, 1993, Chicago Tribune Heartland award, 1993, Irish Times International award, 1993, and Pulitzer prize, 1994, all for The Shipping News ; Dos Passos Prize for Literature, 1996, for Accordion Crimes ; National Magazine award, 1998, for "Brokeback Mountain." D.H.L.: University of Maine, Orono, 1994.
Postcards. New York, Scribner, 1992; London, Fourth Estate, 1993.
The Shipping News. New York, Scribner, 1993; London, FourthEstate, 1994.
Accordion Crimes. New York, Scribner, 1996.
Heart Songs, and Other Stories. New York, Scribner, 1988; London, Flamingo, 1989.
Close Range: Wyoming Stories, watercolors by William Matthews. New York, Scribner, 1999.
Sweet and Hard Cider: Making It, Using It, and Enjoying It, with LewNichols. Charlotte, Vermont, Garden Way, 1980; second edition, with Lew Nichols, Pownal, Vermont, Storey Communications, 1997.
"What'll You Take for It?": Back to Barter. Charlotte, Vermont, Garden Way, 1981.
The Complete Dairy Foods Cookbook: How to Make Everything from Cheese to Custard in Your Kitchen, with Lew Nichols. Emmaus, Pennsylvania, Rodale Press, 1982.
The Gardener's Journal and Record Book. Emmaus, Pennsylvania, Rodale Press, 1983.
Plan and Make Your Own Fences and Gates, Walkways, Walls and Drives. Emmaus, Pennsylvania, Rodale Press, 1983.
The Fine Art of Salad Gardening. Emmaus, Pennsylvania, RodalePress, 1985.
The Gourmet Gardener: Growing Choice Fruits and Vegetables with Spectacular Results, illustrated by Robert Byrd. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1987.
(2000) All over this scratched and worn earth regional and rural cultures, the natural world, and the diversity of life itself are eroding and crumbling under terrific outside pressures. For more than a decade, through the medium of fiction, I have been trying to catch pieces of North American rural lives and ways squeezed in the pincers of change. For me everything begins with the great landscape—not scenery but soil and water, climate and weather, indigenous plant and animal life, geography and geology. Against this background human adaptation to, and exploitation of, that landscape in a particular time orders the personalities and characaters of my stories, shapes the stories themselves which must tumble out of the place portrayed. I am concerned as well with the growing gap between rural and urban attitudes and behavior, the rural perception of the economic forces that call out the marching orders.
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Arguably one of the most exciting writers to come along in decades, E. Annie Proulx is hardly what one might call an overnight success. For nearly two decades, she worked as freelance journalist and was a writer of "how-to" books on assignment; meanwhile, stories bubbled inside her. They finally erupted in her first collection, Heart Songs and Other Stories. Set in a northern New England, a landscape that can only be described as "severe," the nine stories gave evidence of greatness to follow. Their odd-sounding names and battered conditions were simultaneously a mirror of the landscape and of Proulx's own quirky humor.
Heart Songs was followed by Postcards, a novel that won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In other hands Proulx's decision to launch each chapter with a postcard tied to Loyal Blood, an aimless wanderer who serves as the book's protagonist, would have been a disaster, but Proulx so integrates the furious pace of story with the dazzle of technique that the result seems at once aesthetically coherent and entirely effortless.
Moreover, in documenting the decline-and-fall of a small American farm, one that had been in the Blood family for generations, Proulx was driving toward the very heart of America itself. Not that she preaches her message in an overt, editorializing manner; rather, her fiction dramatizes the particularities of a time and place with the fury of a gothic vision.
Shipping News is also set in an essentially hostile environment: Killick-Claw, a remote coastal village in Newfoundland. Known for its sudden storms and icy seas, the setting seems as unlikely as the postcards faithfully reproduced in Proulx's earlier novel. However, the saga of Quoyle, a hapless journalist who returns to his Newfoundland family home when his faithless wife is killed in a car wreck, serves as the springboard for an ambitious, multilayered novel.
At the center of The Shipping News is both the column of maritime comings-and-goings that Quoyle writes for The Gammy Bird (Prouxl's hilarious send-up of a small town newspaper) and her protagonist's ongoing effort to pull his life together. As Proulx's delightfully quirky style makes clear, he has a long way to go:
[He had] a great damp loaf of a body. At six he weighed eighty pounds. At sixteen he was buried under a casement of flesh. Head shaped like a crensaw, no neck, reddish hair ruched back. Features as bunched as kissed fingertips. Eyes the color of plastic. The monstrous chin, a freakish shelf jutting from the lower face.
As for The Gammy Bird, it specializes in car wrecks ("We run a front-page photo of a car wreck every week, whether we have a wreck or not"), sexual abuse stories garnered from the wire service, and the "shipping news," the paper's effort to spread the good news that commerce still goes on in Killick-Claw.
Quoyle digs out of his disastrous past by digging into work and the strange community he encounters through it. Even more remarkable, what might have been the unrelenting tale of his perpetual loserhood takes a sharp turn at the end toward love. Not only does Quoyle's unlikely column become an unqualified success (rather like The Shipping News itself, which won a Pulitzer Prize), but Quoyle finds himself "coiled" in the grasp of the community in general and of Wavey Prowse in particular. That he marries her at the end seems as magical—given Quoyle's long history of estrangement—as Newfoundland. But that may well be Proulx's point: darkness, even dark comedy, may not be the final word. Rather,
Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat's blood, mountaintops give off cold fire, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs with pain or misery.
In Accordion Crimes, Proulx once again proved her ability to construct a powerful narrative on a rather modest framework. The idea, of tracing the progress of an object as it moves from owner to owner, is not a new one, but Proulx's execution is so deft, and her portrayals so varied, that in her hands it all seems fresh again. The object in question is the one suggested by the title, and the "crimes" are those ordinary and sometimes extraordinary ones that people commit in the course of living. The cast of characters, those who own the accordion at various times between the late-nineteenth and late-twentieth centuries, comprises an array of figures, many of them immigrants, all across the heartland of the United States. They bring with them the prejudices of their past, and gain new ones on these shores, but the universality of music unites them at weddings and at wakes. Whether describing the workings of the accordion itself or a violent scene at a lunch counter in the segregated South of the 1960s, Proulx brings to each detail a penetrating insight and an obvious love for her creations that ensure her work will remain readable for generations to come.
updated by Judson Knight
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