Even when Proulx is writing about modern-day characters, her stories seem like they are from another time. In a way, they are: Proulx often sets her tales in forgotten places at a pace that's measured, intricate, and more closely aligned with earlier, quieter days.
Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx did not set out to be a writer. She studied history in school, acquiring both her bachelor's and her master's degrees and abandoning her doctorate only in the face of a pessimistic job market. Something of a free spirit, she married and divorced three times and ended up raising three sons and a daughter single-handedly. She settled in rural Vermont, living in a succession of small towns where she worked as a freelance journalist and spent her free time in the great outdoors, hunting, fishing, and canoeing.
Although she wrote prolifically, most of Proulx's early work was nonfiction. She penned articles on weather, farming, and construction, and contracted for a series of rural "how tos" for magazines like Yankee and Organic Gardening. She also founded the Vershire Behind the Times, a monthly newspaper filled with colorful features and vignettes of small-town Vermont life. All this left little time for fiction, but she averaged a couple of stories a year, nearly all of which were accepted for publication.
Prominent credits in two editions of Best American Short Stories led to the publication in 1988 of Heart Songs and Other Stories, a first collection of Proulx's short fiction. Set in blue-collar New England, these "perfectly pitched stories of mysterious revenges and satisfactions" (the Guardian) received rapturous reviews.
With the encouragement of her publisher, Proulx released her first novel in 1992. The story of a fractured New England farm family, Postcards went on to win the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. She scored an even greater success the following year when her darkly comic Newfoundland set piece The Shipping News scooped both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. One year before her 60th birthday, Proulx had become an authentic literary celebrity.
Since then, the author has alternated between short and long fiction, garnering numerous accolades and honors along the way. Giving the lie to the literary adage "write what you know," her curiosity has led her into interesting, unfamiliar territory: Before writing The Shipping News, she made more than seven extended trips to Newfoundland, immersing herself in the culture and speech of its inhabitants; similarly, she weaved staggering amounts of musical arcana into her 1996 novel Accordion Crimes. She is known for her keen powers of observationpassed on, she says, from her mother, an artist and avid naturalistand for her painstaking research, a holdover from her student days.
In 1994, Proulx left Vermont for the wide open spaces of Wyominga move that inspired several memorable short stories, including the O. Henry Award winner "Brokeback Mountain." First published in The New Yorker and included in the 1999 collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories, this tale of a doomed love affair between two Wyoming cowboys captured the public imagination when it was turned into an Oscar-winning 2005 film by director Ang Lee.
Lionized by most critics, Proulx is, nevertheless, not without her detractors. Indeed, her terse prose, eccentric characters, startling descriptions, and stylistic idiosyncrasies (run-on sentences followed by sentence fragments) are not the literary purist's cup of tea. But few writers can match her brilliance at manipulating language, evoking place and landscape, or weaving together an utterly mesmerizing story with style and grace.
Good To Know
Proulx was the first woman to win the prestigious Pen/Faulkner Award.
Proulx fell in love with Newfoundland while she was conducting research for The Shipping News. She now spends part of each year in northern Newfoundland on a small cove adjacent to L'Anse aux Meadows..