Proulx, E. Annie 1935–
Proulx, E. Annie 1935–
(Annie Proulx, Edna Annie Proulx)
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Pru"; born August 22, 1935, in Norwich, CT; daughter of George Na-polean and Lois Nelly (Gill) Proulx; married and divorced three times, including James Hamilton Lang, 1969 (divorced 1990), children: Jon Lang, Gillis Lang, Morgan Lang, Muffy Clarkson. Education: Attended Colby College; University of Vermont, Burlington, B.A. (cum laude), 1969; Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University), M.A., 1973, enrolled in Ph.D. program until 1975. Hobbies and other interests: Fishing, canoeing, skiing, bicycling, reading.
ADDRESSES: Home—Wyoming. Office—c/o Scribner Publishing Co., 866 3rd Ave. Fl. 7, New York, NY 10022. Agent—Liz Darhansoff, Darhansoff, Verrill, Fel-man Literary Agents, 236 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10001.
CAREER: Writer of articles, book reviews, and fiction and nonfiction books, 1975–. Founder and editor of rural Vermont newspaper Behind the Times, 1984–86.
MEMBER: PEN, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Alpha Theta.
AWARDS, HONORS: Kress fellow, Harvard University, 1974; Gardens Writers of America Award, 1986; Vermont Council on the Arts fellowship, 1989; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1991; Guggenheim fellow, 1992; PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, 1993, for Postcards; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination for best fiction, National Book Award for fiction, Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction, and Irish Times International Fiction Prize, all 1993, and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, 1994, all for The Shipping News; honorary D.H.L., University of Maine, 1994; Dos Passos Prize for Literature, 1996, for Accordion Crimes; National Magazine award, 1998, and O. Henry Prize, both for Brokeback Mountain; award for fiction, New Yorker, 2000, for Close Range: Wyoming Stories; Best Foreign Language Novels of 2002/Best American Novel Award, Chinese Publishing Association and Peoples' Literature Publishing House, 2002, for That Old Ace in the Hole.
Heart Songs and Other Stories, Scribner (New York, NY), 1988.
Postcards (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1992.
The Shipping News (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
Accordion Crimes (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.
(Under name Annie Proulx) Brokeback Mountain (short story; also see below), Fourth Estate (London, England), 1998, Scribner (New York, NY), 2005.
(Under name Annie Proulx) Close Range: Wyoming Stories, watercolors by William Matthews, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
(Under name Annie Proulx) That Old Ace in the Hole (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.
(Under name Annie Proulx) Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2, Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.
(Under name Annie Proulx; with Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana) Brokeback Mountain: Story to Screenplay, Scribner (New York, NY), 2006.
(With Lew Nichols) Sweet and Hard Cider: Making It, Using It, and Enjoying It, Garden Way (Charlotte, VT), 1980, third edition, under name Annie Proulx, published as Cider: Making, Using, and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider, Storey Publications (North Adams, MA), 2003.
"What'll You Take for It?": Back to Barter, Garden Way (Charlotte, VT), 1981.
(With Lew Nichols) The Complete Dairy Foods Cookbook: How to Make Everything from Cheese to Custard in Your Kitchen, Rodale Press (Emmaus, PA), 1982.
The Gardener's Journal and Record Book, Rodale Press (Emmaus, PA), 1983.
Plan and Make Your Own Fences and Gates, Walkways, Walls, and Drives, Rodale Press (Emmaus, PA), 1983.
The Fine Art of Salad Gardening, Rodale Press (Emmaus, PA), 1985.
The Gourmet Gardener: Growing Choice Fruits and Vegetables with Spectacular Results, illustrated by Robert Byrd, Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1987.
Contributor of stories to anthologies, including Fiction, Flyfishing, and the Search for Innocence, Birch Brook Press, 1994; contributor of essay to Andrea Modica, Treadwell: Photographs, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1996. Contributor of articles to periodicals, including African Arts, Equinox, New York Times, National Wildlife, Yankee, Down East, Country Journal, Outside, Chicago Tribune, Walking, and Horticulture; contributor of short stories to Ploughshares, Gray's Sporting Journal, Seventeen, Esquire, and Harrowsmith.
ADAPTATIONS: The Shipping News was adapted for film in 2001 and released by Miramax. Larry McMurtry and Dianna Ossana adapted Brokeback Mountain for a film directed by Ang Lee, released 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: In both short fiction and novels that show how human resilience is shaped and honed in harsh, rusticated, sometimes merciless, yet ultimately beautiful geographic outposts, E. Annie Proulx captures a unique facet of the mythic American character. It is a facet that she has embodied in her own life as a writer, going against the odds by raising three sons, supporting her family by working as a freelance journalist, and slowly establishing herself as a unique literary stylist and a consumate storyteller. In the late 1980s Proulx's writing career finally blossomed, earning her much critical and public acclaim for her fiction. Her 1992 novel, Postcards, won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, while The Shipping News, published a year later, received numerous honors, including the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Proulx is also the author of the short story Brokeback Mountain. Originally published in London, England, in 1998, the story, which is about two homosexual cowboys in 1960s Wyoming, was adapted and released in 2005 as a widely publicized and controversial American film.
Born in Connecticut, Proulx attended Colby College, and then studied history at the University of Vermont and Sir George Williams University (now renamed Concordia University), where she earned her M.A. in 1973. She then worked as a freelance writer, "a classic example of shifting from the frying pan to the fire," as she once explained. Living in northern Vermont "in brutally poor circumstances," she wrote articles on "weather, apples, canoeing, mountain lions, mice, cuisine, libraries, African beadwork, cider and lettuces" for magazines. In between, she penned short stories, at the rate, as she recalled, of "about two a year."
Proulx related her experiences moving from writing nonfiction to producing the nine tales collected in Heart Songs and Other Stories, telling John Blades of the Chicago Tribune: "After 19 years of writing tedious nonfiction, all these stories were just bottled up inside me, waiting to get out. Now writing fiction is sheer play." Assessing the volume, Elaine Kendall of the Los Angeles Times described Heart Songs as "hard stories set in a bleak climate; a closed, narrow world hostile to strangers and rough on its own." Set in northern New England, the stories in Heart Songs feature characters that Kenneth Rosen, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called "shy, battered, depleted." As they would with her subsequent fiction, some critics remarked upon the strange names of Proulx's characters and what reviewer Kendall called "a terse quirky humor" displayed in several stories. Of Proulx's tales, Rosen concluded: "Their sometimes enigmatic, often lyrical images seem to complement New England's lavish but barren beauty."
Each chapter of Proulx's first novel, Postcards, begins with a postcard connected in some way to the character Loyal Blood or to the parents and siblings Blood left behind after the ambiguous death of his girlfriend. The Blood family has worked their farm in New England for generations, but with Loyal's departure a decline begins, and through descriptions of his aimless wanderings over the next thirty years, Postcards documents the slow death of the small American family farm.
Reviewers praised Postcards for its commentary on the American condition, but reserved their most lavish accolades for Proulx's abilities as a storyteller. Frederick Busch of the Chicago Tribune Book World stated: "What makes this rich, dark and brilliant feast of a book is its furious action, its searing contemplations, its language born of the fury and the searching and the author's powerful sense of the gothic soul of New England." David Bradley, writing in the New York Times Book Review, concluded: "Story makes this novel compelling; technique makes it beautiful. What makes Postcards significant is that Ms. Proulx uses both story and technique to make real the history of post-World War II America."
The thread that connects Proulx's second novel, The Shipping News, to her earlier fiction is its setting in a hostile climate. Newfoundland, a remote Canadian province known for its sudden storms and icy seas, provides the harsh backdrop to the story of Quoyle, a huge, hapless journalist living in upstate New York. His unfaithful wife dies in a car wreck, leaving him with their two daughters and an overwhelming grief. When Quoyle's aunt arrives she easily convinces him to pack up his family and travel to Newfoundland to reclaim the family land and start over. According to a reviewer for the Atlantic: "Proulx blends Newfoundland argot, savage history, impressively diverse characters, fine descriptions of weather and scenery, and comic horseplay without ever lessening the reader's interest in Quoyle's progress."
The Shipping News received an outpouring of critical acclaim upon its release. Howard Norman in the New York Times Book Review acknowledged "Proulx's surreal humor and her zest for the strange foibles of humanity." Emphasizing the effect of the watery setting of The Shipping News on the reader, Stephen Jones of the Chicago Tribune Book World asserted: "In spite of Proulx's invitations to dream in the coves, her plot rushes out of a confluence between the force of the characters and their environment to buoy you on. The result is that rare creation, a lyric page turner."
Proulx told Nicci Gerrard of the London Observer: "Eight years ago, I was looking for canoeing waters and I unfolded an old map of Newfoundland. Each place-name had a story—Dead Man's Cove, Seldom Come Bay and Bay of Despair, Exploits River, Plunder Beach. I knew I had to go there, and within 10 minutes of arriving, I'd fallen in love. I am pulled by the harshness of the weather, the strength of the landscape which is dark and stormy and rough,… the sense of a land holding its own against people."
Following on the commercial and critical success of The Shipping News, Proulx produced Accordion Crimes. A novel in the picaresque tradition, this work follows an accordion as it moves from owner to owner during the span of a century. Proulx uses this technique as a forum in which to discuss the immigrant experience in America, with the novel's nine sections each set among a different ethnic group: a German settlement in Iowa; a Louisiana Cajun family; and a Mexican immigrant in Texas, among others. The accordion's change-of-ownership is initiated in each instance by a disaster of some sort; many of these, in typical Proulx fashion, take the form of grisly deaths related in parentheses by the author. "Instead of the river of time, you get a lawn sprinkler effect, a kind of jittery, jammed, off-balance feeling," Proulx told Sybil Steinberg in a interview for Publishers Weekly.
While not greeted with the kind of uniform praise as its immediate predecessor, Accordion Crimes nonetheless elicited many warm reviews from critics. Chicago Tribune Books reviewer Bharati Mukherjee remarked, "With Proulx as biographer, the accordion's life story becomes more than an occasion for dazzling displays of writing…. Proulx proves her thesis with bleak persistence: America hates its non-Anglo immigrants." Writing in the Bloomsbury Review, Steven C. Ballinger praised Proulx's storytelling skill: "She can pick the telling characteristic the way a watercolorist's stroke sets the scene. When she sets a dialect in motion through a character, it is absolute and sure." Some reviewers felt that Proulx's technique results in less-than-fully developed characters. New York Times critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, for instance, noted that "the moment you begin to identify with any of the novel's characters, the narrative pushes you away by conveying in various ways that they aren't worth bothering with." And Newsweek reviewer Malcolm Jones, Jr., called Accordion Crimes "a book with no unifying narrative drive. The chapters are meant to work as separate stories, but that's all they are, a collection of stories." Still, explained Lehmann-Haupt, "Such is the energy of Ms. Proulx's prose, the authenticity of her dialogue and the brilliance of her invention that you can't help being caught up by some of her set pieces." Commenting on her use of creative devices in this book, Proulx told Steinberg: "Everything that happens to characters comes welling out of the place. Even their definition of themselves, and a lot of this book is about the definition of self."
After writing her first three novels, Proulx turned her focus once again to short stories, finally returning to the novel form in 2003 with a paean to Texas titled That Old Ace in the Hole. In an interview with Katie Bolick for Atlantic Unbound, Proulx discussed the shift from writing novels to penning short fiction as "intensely pleasurable—a break in the set of mind for a novel, which is a long, hard piece of work. At least you can see the end of a short story in a fairly short period; a month or six weeks for each one. There's a pleasing rhythm in the writing of short stories, and the challenge is greater; I find them harder than novels to write, not only because of the conciseness and the fact that every single word, every piece of punctuation, has to drive the story forward, but also because writing stories with both depth and surface is a considerable challenge."
Her fiction collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories contains eleven tales that, as Dean Bakopoulos noted in the Progressive, focus on "the mythic legends of drunken cowboys, rodeo heroes, betrayed lovers, and aging ranchers, while exploring all the loneliness, blood, and dirt of the Western landscape." Bakopoulos also commented that, as a whole, Close Range "is powerful fiction, and somehow Proulx manages to give each story the plot, depth of character, sense of setting, and thematic weight of an entire novel." As Charlotte L. Glover, noted in the Library Journal, "Proving that the Pulitzer Prize for The Shipping News was no fluke, Proulx once again demonstrates her creative mastery of the English language." Particularly of note, Glover added, is Brokeback Mountain, which received a New Yorker award for fiction and focuses on two ranch hands who have an erotic relationship, go on to have traditional family lives, and then come together once again. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, noting that the stories in Close Range run the gamut from "bleakly humorous" to "poignant," commented that Proulx's "ability to merge the matter-of-fact and the macabre, and her summary of life's pain in a terse closing sentence, will elicit gasps of pain and understanding. In the close range of a distinctive landscape, Proulx encapsulates the wide range of human experience: loss, longing and the Spartan determination to go on from day to day."
Proulx's follow-up collection of short stories, Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2, is predominantly set in fictional Elk Tooth, Wyoming (where eighty people live in a three-bar town). The characters that populate these stories have strange names and stranger quirks. Proulx seems to indicate that it takes a character to live with the isolation and poverty characteristically found in the country. While reviewers did find fault with the collection, most concluded that it was still a worthy addition to Proulx's oeuvre. "The collection trips up, though, with the inclusion of a handful of stories that veer into magical realism," New Statesman contributor William Skidel-sky stated. However, Skidelsky also commented that Proulx's "trademark skills are on display in these tales; they include a talent for metaphor, a wry sense of humour and an ability to sum up a whole life in a sentence." Interestingly, an Economist critic echoed this sentiment, noting Proulx's "masterful ability to condense a character's life into punchy sentences that underpin vivid images."
Of her writing career, Proulx told Gerrard: "I came to writing late, and I'm racing against the clock to get everything down. My head is jammed with stories; they are pushing to get out." After living for many years in Vermont, Proulx now lives in Wyoming where, as she told Steinberg in Publishers Weekly, there is "room to walk. There's something about being able to shoot your eyes very far ahead. In northern New England, the trees got in the way."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 81, 1994.
Atlantic, April, 1993, pp. 131-132.
Booklist, March 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of Close Range: Wyoming Stories, p. 1261.
Bloomsbury Review, September-October, 1996, p. 18.
Chicago Tribune, March 29, 1993, sec. 5, p. 3.
Commonweal, December 1, 1995, p. 24.
Critique, spring, 1999, p. 239.
Economist, January 8, 2005, review of Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2, p. 76.
English Journal, January, 1996, p. 94.
Entertainment Weekly, January 3, 2003, review of That Old Ace in the Hole, p. 68.
Library Journal, May 1, 1999, Charlotte L. Glover, review of Close Range: Wyoming Stories, p. 115.
Los Angeles Times, December 30, 1988; January 20, 1992, p. E2.
Nation, June 24, 1996, p. 29.
New Republic, May 30, 1994, p. 35.
New Statesman, January 10, 2005, William Skidelsky, review of Bad Dirt, p. 56.
New Statesman and Society, December 3, 1993, p. 39.
Newsweek, June 10, 1996, p. 88.
New York Times, April 21, 1993, p. C15; June 17, 1996, p. C14.
New York Times Book Review, January 29, 1989, p. 30; March 22, 1992, p. 7; April 4, 1993, p. 13; June 23, 1996, p. 12.
Observer (London, England), November 14, 1993, p. 18.
Progressive, September, 1999, Dean Bakopoulos, review of Close Range: Wyoming Stories, p. 43.
Publishers Weekly, August 15, 1980, p. 53; March 18, 1983, pp. 68-69; April 18, 1994, p. 10; April 15, 1996, p. 48; June 3, 1996, Sybil Steinberg, "E. Annie Proulx: An American Odyssey," p. 57; March 29, 1999, review of Close Range: Wyoming Stories, p. 91.
Spectator, December 18, 2004, Digby Durrant, review of Bad Dirt, p. 92.
Studies in Canadian Literature (annual), 1998, pp. 49-70.
Time, June 24, 1996, p. 82; May 17, 1999, John Skow, review of Close Range: Wyoming Stories, p. 88.
Times Literary Supplement, Ocotber 23, 1998, Lucy Atkins, review of Brokeback Mountain, p. 24.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), January 12, 1992, pp. 1, 4; March 21, 1993, pp. 1, 9; June 9, 1996, p. 1.
Voice Literary Supplement, April, 1993, p. 29.
Wall Street Journal, June 14, 1996, p. A12.
Washington Post, April 21, 1993, p. B1; May 17, 1993, pp. B1, B4.
Women's Review of Books, September, 1996, p. 11.
Yale Review, October, 1993, pp. 133-135.
Atlantic Unbound, http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/ (November 12, 1997), Katie Bolick, "Imagination Is Everything: A Conversation with E. Annie Proulx."