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Get to Know Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection Close Range. Her many honors include a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and a PEN/Faulkner award. Her story “Brokeback Mountain,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Her most recent novel is Barkskins.

Edna Annie Proulx was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on August 22, 1935, the eldest of 5 girls. Her mother was a painter and her father worked in textiles. In her own words: “My father, of French-Canadian lineage, left school at fourteen to work as a bobbin boy in the cotton mills of Rhode Island and Connecticut. He was ambitious, worked his way up the ladder to become a vice president of a textile mill. I had four sisters and all of us ended up liking the outdoors. We went on a big vacation every year, camping in Maine, usually along the beach at Reid State Park in Georgetown. What I remember is a vast expanse of water, and when we were kids we always used to go early in the spring, just as early as possible. It would always be freezing cold—March on the seashore, and of course you had to go in the water, even though it was like the Arctic.
My family is all from the East. I don’t see them much now, but I did go to a big family reunion this summer in Litchfield, Connecticut, and saw people I haven’t seen in decades. My family has had property in Connecticut since 1635. They are so wedded to that past, and it’s so important to them in a way that it’s not important to me. This whole question of memory and history and the tangle of one into the other.”
Her mother, Lois Gill, is a painter. "From the time I was extremely small, I was told, 'Look at that,' " she said. "Most often it was anthills. My mother would say, 'Look at that one carrying a stick.' All these guys had characters. She would give them voices. We'd be watching them, and pointing out the various ones. There was Charlie, there was Mr. Jones. She had an animistic universe in her mind."
Around age 10, Proulx wrote her first short story. She remembers nothing about it. From then on she occasionally wrote smth, published some in Seventeen and other magazines, but that was a sidestory. She was going to be a history professor. She graduated from the University of Vermont in 1969 with a history degree. Moving to Canada to continue her education, she received a master's degree in history from Montreal's Concordia University (Sir George Williams University at the time) in 1973. After working two years toward a PhD in history, Proulx decided to leave it as she was unable to face a life of institutional politics and faculty dinner parties. ‘I don’t play well with others,’ she explains.

Univerity of Vermont
The need to support her children also drove Proulx to leave her studies. According to Proulx, she married and divorced "too many times" and began her writing career as a single mother raising three sons. Proulx's three marriages and divorces may have influenced her writing. She says of her marriages: "I could not operate in a conventional family." Her daughter, Muffy, by her first husband (whom Proulx dropped out of college to marry when she was just 20), stayed with her father when they divorced after five years. Proulx married again in the 60s and had three sons – Jonathan, Gillis and Morgan – before divorcing and marrying for a third time in 1969.

She once said that she grew up in an era when you were supposed to get married, adding: “I don’t think I was a particularly good or diligent mother. It took a long time for the obvious to become obvious: I could not operate in a conventional family.” These days, Proulx says, she and her children enjoy regular get-togethers. “I get along with all my children rather well and they like each other, which makes me very happy. You want them to be friends as well as relatives.”
She worked in restaurants and the post office, and published a village newspaper. She kept working on her short stories, but to put food on the table she wrote how-to magazine articles about canoeing, mice, building a house, growing chillies, and a hundred other practical things.
Her first published books were about cider-making, fence-building, grape-growing and gourmet-vegetable gardening. She was a keen bird hunter and fly fisherwoman, so she started submitting articles to hunting and fishing magazines.
Later, though, she began writing more stories, a couple a year. And all were printed. The most extraordinary thing about her literary career is how late it began. She published her first collection of short fiction, Heart Songs, in 1988, at the age of 53.

The contract included a blank space for another book described only as ‘novel’, so she wrote one called Postcards. The main protagonist was named Loyal Blood, and he now seems almost a prototype. Her editor at the time, Tom Jenks, had drawn up the contract. "He just said: 'Why don't we put in there a novel? You might want to write a novel sometime.' And I just laughed madly, had not a clue about writing a novel, or even the faintest desire. I thought of myself as a short story writer. Period, period, period." "I sat down, and within a half-hour, the whole of 'Postcards' was in my head," she said. The book was about a New England farm family losing its home.
Postcards was published in 1992 and won glowing reviews and the prestigious PEN/Faulkner award. She was the first woman to receive this award.

Proulx's second novel, The Shipping News, captured the 1993 National Book Award for Fiction and went on to win the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Proulx reportedly said she wrote The Shipping News in response to critics who claimed her other family novels were too dark. For this novel, she created a family story that ends more or less happily.

It was a huge international bestseller about a small Newfoundland town and its hapless newspaperman, Quoyle. It was later made into a film with Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore and Judi Dench.

About starting her writing career so late she said: "I certainly don't regret doing it later because I know a lot more about life than I did 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and I think that's important, to know how the water's gone over the dam before you start to describe it. It helps to have been over the dam yourself."
In 1996 she published the novel, Accordion Crimes. Then, in 1997, "Brokeback Mountain" appeared in the New Yorker magazine and won an O. Henry Award. The short story was published as part of the collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories in 1999 and again as a standalone book in 2005, when it was also made into an Oscar-winning movie.

In 2011 she wrote a memoir called Bird Cloud that includes a story regarding her relocation to Wyoming in 1994 and the building of her Wyoming ranch in 2004. Leaving that ranch in 2006 was one of the most difficult things she did in her life.
Perhaps no one in the world loves books more passionately than Annie Proulx, so the centrepiece of the house was a library with 5,000 books on the shelves, and long worktables covered in maps, manuscripts and research materials. Bedrooms and a kitchen were attached. There was also a Japanese soak tub, orchards and gardens, and solar panels for electricity. Shea said: “One of the great tragedies of my life was that I had to dispose of so many books, I’m bereft of half my books, I keep looking for them. I miss them terribly. I wonder where they are and how they’re doing. And, damn it, I start buying back the books, knowing I have to move again. I dread packing up and moving again. It does not get easier with old age.’
Proulx doesn’t like to talk about her personal life, and sharply deflects enquiries about her three marriages and four children. When I ask how long she has lived by herself, however, she responds enthusiastically. ‘Like many older women, I have discovered the absolute luxury of living alone, and being master of one’s time – important if you are a writer.
Something we have unfortunately seen with may female authors: she was disecouraged to sign with her name and was at the beginning publishing as E. A. Proulx. She explains in one of the interviews: !When I first started writing stories and trying to place them in the outdoor magazines, they insisted that it be E. A. Proulx so the guys who read these magazines wouldn’t think it was a woman writing them. Sexist editors. The ones who suggested it were from a small Vermont publication, 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. I went along with it, and then it became E. Annie, and then finally I got sick of writing E so it just got dropped."

Proulx considers her short stories to be a greater accomplishment than her novels, particularly her three volumes of Wyoming stories—Close Range (1999), Bad Dirt (2004), and Fine Just the Way It Is (2008)—which cover broad swaths of Wyoming history, from the earliest trappers and settlers to the ranchers and game wardens and oil men who populate the state today. Her long story “Brokeback Mountain,” from Close Range, was named an O. Henry Prize Story and won a National Magazine Award, and pieces from all three collections have been anthologized. “The Wamsutter Wolf,” which appeared in the Fall 2004 issue of The Paris Review, received the magazine’s Aga Khan Prize for fiction and was collected in Bad Dirt. Both The Shipping News and “Brokeback Mountain” were made into movies.
Up to now, I've only read The Shipping News. At the beginning the book, eventhough describing painful events, seems rather slow, but with time that style of writing captured me completely and I have to say it was one of the best novels I've read in 2018. Also, as Annie Proulx says, it's the only novel she has that has a relatively happy ending.



  1. I am Annie's niece Diana from Louisiana. One of her twin sisters Joyce was my mother. I've never had the pleasure of meeting her, but my mother spoke so highly of her. I've read most of her books an seen her documentary as well. I wish I had the opportunity to speak to her as all my family has passed an I have no family I know. We sound so much alike. I'm also not good with other's. I enjoy my alone time. I write an paint as well. Nothing famous or published. Thank you, I'm sure it's in my blood.

    1. I hope you can get in touch with her. I was impressed by her when I saw her at Gutun Zuria Festival in Bilbao and I truly think she's a fascinating person.


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