E. Annie Proulx

E. Annie Proulx

In her own words:

I am the oldest of five girls. I was born in Connecticut in 1935, where my mother's English ancestors—farmers, mill workers, inventors, artists—have lived for 350 years. My father's Franco-Canadian grandparents came to New England in the 1860s to work in the woolen mills. My father was in the textile business and we moved frequently when I was a child as he worked his way up the executive ladder. I suspect my intense and single-minded work habits stem from his example. My mother is a painter and amateur naturalist, and from her I learned to see and appreciate the natural world, to develop an eye for detail, and to tell a story. There is a strong tradition of oral storytelling in my mother's family and, as a child, I heard thousands of tales and adventures made out of nothing more substantial than the sight of a man digging clams, an ant moving a straw, an empty shoe.

I've lived in Vermont for more than three decades, studied history at the University of Vermont and Concordia University in Montreal. In hindsight, I recognize that learning to examine the lives of individuals against the longue duree of events was invaluable training for novel-writing.

There were few teaching jobs in history in the seventies, and I shifted from academic study to freelance journalism and for the next 15 years wrote articles on weather, apples, canoeing, mountain lions, mice, cuisine, libraries, African beadwork, cider, and lettuces for dozens of magazines. Whenever I could squeeze in the time I wrote short stories.

In 1988, Scribners published a collection of these stories, Heart Songs and Other Stories. My editor encouraged me to write a novel, and this first effort was Postcards. Around the time Heart Songs was published I made my first trip to Newfoundland.

Rarely have I been so strongly moved by geography as I was during that first journey up the Great Northern Peninsula. The harsh climate, the grim history, the hard lives and the generous, warm characters of the outport fisherman and their families interested me deeply. Yet I could also see contemporary civilization rushing in on the island after its centuries of isolation and the idea for The Shipping News began to form. Over the next few years I made nine trips of Newfoundland, watching, observing, taking notes, listening. I am keenly interested in situations of change, both personal and social, and in this book I wanted to show characters teetering along the highwires of their lives yet managing to keep their balance, lives placed against a background of incomprehensible and massive social change.

The manuscript was completed several months before the Canadian government, alarmed at the decline of the northern cod stock, imposed a fishing moratorium in Newfoundland. Two years later the cod have not recovered, but are at the point of near-extinction. With their disappearance the Newfoundland fishing economy has collapsed. It is now generally observed on the island that the old outport fishing life that sustained Newfoundlanders for centuries is finished.

Author biography courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Bird Cloud
A Memoir of Place

(Fourth Estate, 2012)

Annie Proulx, one of America's finest writers, invites us to share her experience in the building of her new home on a rich plot of untouched, unspoilt prairie and her pleasure in uncovering of the layers of American history locked beneath the topsoil. 'Bird Cloud' is the name Annie Proulx gave to 640 acres of Wyoming wetlands and prairie and 400 foot cliffs plunging down to the North Platte River. On the day she first visited, a cloud in the shape of a bird hung in the evening sky. Proulx also saw pelicans, bald eagles, golden eagles, great blue herons, ravens, scores of bluebirds, harriers, kestrels, elk, deer and a dozen antelope. She knew she had to purchase the land, then owned by the Nature Conservancy, and she knew what she would build on it — a house in harmony with her work, her appetites and her character — a library surrounded by bedrooms and a kitchen. Proulx's first non-fiction in more than twenty years, Bird Cloud is the story of building that house - solar panels, a Japanese soak tub, a concrete floor, elk horn handles on kitchen cabinets - and an enthralling natural history and archeology of the region, inhabited for millennia by Ute, Arapaho and Shoshone Indians. It is also a family history, going back to nineteenth century Mississippi river boat captains and Canadian settlers, and an illuminating autobiography. Proulx, a writer with extraordinary powers of observation and compassion, turns her lens on herself. We understand how she came to be living in a house surrounded by wilderness, with shelves for thousands of books and long worktables on which to heap manuscripts, research materials and maps, and how she came to be one of the great American writers of her time.


Fine Just the Way It Is
Wyoming Stories 3
(Scribner, 2008)

Returning to the territory of Brokeback Mountain (in her first volume of Wyoming Stories) and Bad Dirt(her second), National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx delivers a stunning and visceral new collection. In Fine Just the Way It Is, she has expanded the limits of the form. Her stories about multiple generations of Americans struggling through life in the West are a ferocious, dazzling panorama of American folly and fate.

"Every ranch...had lost a boy," thinks Dakotah Hicks as she drives through "the hammered red landscape" of Wyoming, "boys smiling, sure in their risks, healthy, tipped out of the current of life by liquor and acceleration, rodeo smashups, bad horses, deep irrigation ditches, high trestles, tractor rollovers and 'unloaded' guns. Her boy, too...The trip along this road was a roll call of grief."

Proulx's characters try to climb out of poverty and desperation but get cut down as if the land itself wanted their blood. Deeply sympathetic to the men and women fighting to survive in this harsh place, Proulx turns their lives into fiction with the power of myth -- and leaves the reader in awe. The winner of two O. Henry Prizes, Annie Proulx has been anthologized in nearly every major collection of great American stories. Her bold, inimitable language, her exhilarating eye for detail and her dark sense of humor make this a profoundly compelling collection.


Brokeback Mountain
(Scribner, 2005)

Annie Proulx's breathtaking story Brokeback Mountain has now been adapted to film by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. This handsome edition of the story, originally published in the collection Close Range, coincided with the release of the film in 2005. The release of the film of The Shipping News brought hundreds of thousands of new readers to that novel.Brokeback Mountain is the story of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, two cowboys who share a small cabin while working as herders and camp tenders during a summer spent on a range far above the tree line. They fall into a relationship that at first seems solely sexual—but then reveals itself to be something more. Both men marry and have families, but over the course of many years and frequent separations they find their relationship becomes the most important thing in both their lives, and they do anything they can to maintain it. Proulx's description of their bond is beautiful and haunting—and often brutal in its portrayal of the hardships, and ultimately the violence, they face. Perfect for both moviegoers and Proulx's already well-established legions of readers, this volume is a handsome and timely edition of one of the most talked-about stories of recent years.


Bad Dirt
Wyoming Stories 2
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

The stories in this collection are peopled by characters who struggle with circumstances beyond their control in a kind of rural noir half-light. Trouble comes at them from unexpected angles, and they will themselves through it, hardheaded and resourceful. Bound by the land and by custom, they inhabit worlds that are often isolated, dangerous, and in Proulx's prose, vivid." In "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" rancher Gilbert Wolfscale, alienated from his sons, bewildered by his criminal ex-wife, gets shoved down his throat the fact that the old-style ranch life has gone. Several stories concern the eccentric denizens of Elk Tooth, a tiny hamlet where life revolves around three bars. Elk Toothers enter beard-growing contests, scrape together a living hauling hay, catch poachers in unorthodox ways. "Man Crawling Out of Trees" is about urban newcomers from the east and their discovery, too late, that one of them has violated the deepest ethics of the place. Above all, these stories are about the lives of rapidly disappearing rural Americans.


That Old Ace in the Hole
A Novel
(Simon & Schuster, 2004)

In That Old Ace in the Hole, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Annie Proulx has written an exhilarating story brimming with language, history, landscape, music, and love. The novel, Proulx's fourth, is told through the eyes of Bob Dollar, a young Denver man trying to make good in a bad world. Dollar is out of college but aimless, and he takes a job with Global Pork Rind -- his task to locate big spreads of land in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles that can be purchased by the corporation and converted to hog farms. Dollar finds himself in a Texas town called Woolybucket, whose idiosyncratic inhabitants have ridden out all manner of seismic shifts in panhandle country. These are tough men and women who survived tornadoes and dust storms, and witnessed firsthand the demise of the great cattle ranches. Now it's feed lots, hog farms, and ever-expanding drylands. Dollar settles into LaVon Fronk's old bunkhouse for fifty dollars a month, helps out at Cy Frease's Old Dog Cafe, targets Ace and Tater Crouch's ranch for Global Pork, and learns the hard way how vigorously the old owners will hold on to their land, even though their children want no part of it. Robust, often bawdy, strikingly original and intimate, That Old Ace in the Hole tracks the vast waves of change that have shaped the American landscape and character over the past century -- and in Bob Dollar, Proulx has created one of the most irresistible characters in contemporary fiction.


Close Range
(Scribner, 2000)

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling author of The Shipping News and Accordion Crimes comes one of the most celebrated short-story collections of our time.

Annie Proulx's masterful language and fierce love of Wyoming are evident in these breathtaking tales of loneliness, quick violence, and the wrong kinds of love. Each of the stunning portraits in Close Range reveals characters fiercely wrought with precision and grace.

These are stories of desperation and unlikely elation, set in a landscape both stark and magnificent -- by an author writing at the peak of her craft.


Accordian Crimes
(Scribner, 1997)

Accordion Crimes opens in 1890 in Sicily as an accordion maker completes his finest instrument - nineteen polished bone buttons, sleek lacquer - and dreams of owning a music store in America. He and his eleven-year-old son, carrying little more than the green accordion, voyage to the teeming, violent port of New Orleans. Within a year, the accordion maker is murdered by an anti-Italian lynching mob, but his instrument carries Proulx's story into another community of immigrants, the German Americans, founding a town in Iowa. Again, the accordion is witness to an astonishing array of tales as Beutle, Messermacher, Loats and their families make and lose fortunes in the new land. The little green accordion falls into the hands of various immigrants who carry it from Iowa to Texas, from Maine to Louisiana, looking for a decent life. Descendants of Mexicans, Africans, Poles, Germans, Norwegians, Irish, Basques and Franco-Canadians, they work their way into a harshly racist American culture at the cost of their identity, language and traditions. The music of the accordion is their last link with the past - voice for their fantasies, sorrows and exuberance - but it, too, is forced to change.


The Shipping News
(Simon & Schuster, 1994)

When Quoyle's two-timing wife meets her just deserts, he retreats with his two daughters to his ancestral home on the starkly beautiful Newfoundland coast, where a rich cast of local characters and family members all play a part in Quoyle's struggle to reclaim his life. As Quoyle confronts his private demons -- and the unpredictable forces of nature and society -- he begins to see the possibility of love without pain or misery.

A vigorous, darkly comic, and at times magical portrait of the contemporary North American family, The Shipping News shows why Annie Proulx is recognized as one of the most gifted and original writers in America today.


Postcards
(Simon & Schuster, 1994)

Loyal Blood is forced to abandon his Vermont farm when he commits the most terrible of crimes. Thus begins an odyssey that stretches from New England to the coast of California. Blood mines gold, prospects for uranium, grows beans, ranches, traps, and hunts for fossils. Teeming with historical detail and powerful portraits, Proulx's mesmerizing first novel is a new American classic.

SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
Fine Just the Way It Is
Wyoming Stories 3

Starred Review. The steely Proulx (The Shipping News, etc.) returns with another astonishing series of hardscrabble lives lived in the sparse, inhospitable West, where one mistake can put you on a long-winding trail to disaster. Family Man is set in the Mellowhorn Home for old cowboys and aging ranch widows, where resident curmudgeon Ray Forkenbrock shares memories of his father with his granddaughter and an eavesdropping caretaker; the secret he reveals gives new meaning to the word relative. In two demonically clever riffs on human weakness, I've Always Loved This Place and Swamp Mischief, the Devil, accompanied by his secretary, Duane Fork, must entertain himself thinking up new ways to bother the living and the dead, as temptation is no longer a necessary evil. Saving the best for last, Tits-up in a Ditch breaks new literary ground with the gut-wrenching tale of an Iraq veteran who returns to her family raw with grief. Pioneer homesteaders facing drought and debt give way to modern-day hippies trying to lose themselves in the vanishing wilderness and real estate developers out to make a buck—unforgettable characters in nine stories that range in tone from crude cowboy humor to heartbreaking American tragedy.
-- Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

 

SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
Brokeback Mountain

Kirkus Reviews
"A vigorous second collection from Proulx (after Heart Songs and Other Stories, 1988): eleven nicely varied stories set in the roughhewn wasteland that one narrator calls a '97,000-square-miles dog's breakfast of outside exploiters, Republican ranchers and scenery.'

"The characters here are windburned, fatalistic westerners stuck in the harsh lives they've made for themselves in this bitter demi-paradise. They include: hardworking, luckless ranchers (in the painfully concise 'Job History,' and the sprawling "Pair a Spurs," the latter a wry tale of divorce, sexual urgency, and sheer cussedness that bears fleeting resemblances to Proulx's Accordion Crimes); aging hellion Josanna Skiles (of 'A Lonely Coast') and the lover who can neither tame her nor submit to her; a sagebrush Bluebeard and his inquisitive wife (in the amusingly fragmentary '55 Miles to the Gas Pump'); and an itinerant rodeo cowboy (in 'The Mud Below') whose vagrant spirit stubbornly kicks against memories of his disastrous childhood. Two stories are, effectively, miniature novels: 'People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water,' about memorably dysfunctional feuding families; and 'The Bunchgrass Edge of the World,' which begins as a collection of random eccentricities, then coheres into a grimly funny parody of the family saga. 'The Blood Bay' retells a familiar western folktale, adding just a whiff of Chaucer's 'Pardoner's Tale.' And two prizewinning pieces brilliantly display Proulx's trademark whipsaw wit and raw, lusty language. 'The Half-Skinned Steer' wrests a rich portrayal of the experience of unbelonging from the account of an old man's journey westward, for his brother's funeral, back to the embattled home he'd spent decades escaping. And the powerful 'Brokeback Mountain' explores with plangent understated compassion the lifelong sexual love between two cowboys destined for separation, and the harsh truth that 'if you can't fix it you've got to stand it.' Gritty, authoritative stories of loving, losing, and bearing the consequences.

"Nobody else writes like this, and Proulx has never written better."

 

SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
Bad Dirt
Wyoming Stories 2

Publishers Weekly
The beautiful and harsh terrain of Wyoming and the tough and often eccentric people who make their lives there are again on display in this collection of stories (a sequel to the much-laudedClose Range: Wyoming Stories). In "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" Gilbert Wolfscale struggles with drought and debt to hold on to the ranch that has been passed down in his family for generations, driving off his wife and two sons, who have no interest in continuing the legacy. Many old-time ranch owners in this territory are women, and they face similar struggles: in "The Trickle Down Effect," Fiesta Punch hires local ne'er-do-well Deb Sipple for a long-distance hay haul, with disastrous results. Proulx does leaven her tales of hardship and woe with a dry humor, and she doesn't forget to tackle the misguided romance sought by newcomers to the land, as in "Man Crawling Out of Trees," in which a retired couple from the Northeast find that the quiet truce of their marriage can't survive encounters with the resentful locals. While none of the stories in this collection approaches the sweep and wholeness of "Brokeback Mountain" (the standout story from Close Range, and soon to be a major film), and other pieces are little more than whimsical sketches (sometimes with a touch of the magical), they paint a rich, colorful picture of local life.
-- Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

 

SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
That Old Ace in the Hole

Publishers Weekly
Proulx's people are the hardworking poor who live in bleak, derelict, noisome corners of America where they endure substandard housing, eat bad food and know everybody else's business, going back generations. Most are voluble, in vernacular that sings with regional dialects. All have names that Proulx evidently savors, monikers like LaVon Grace Fronk, Jerky Baum, Habakuk van Melkebeek and Freda Beautyrooms-with personalities to match. The protagonist of her latest novel is the relatively average Bob Dollar (aka Mr. Dime and Mr. Penny), a young man determined to make something of himself, whose boss at the Global Pork Rind corporation, Ribeye Cluke, sends him from Denver to the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle, where he will secretly scout for properties that can be bought for hog farms. As he settles in the town of Wooleybucket, Bob is exposed to the stench that hog farms emit: "a heavy ammoniac stink that burned the eyes and the throat." He also comes to understand the old folks' love of their land, which they've worked through drought, floods, tornadoes and ice storms. Pulitzer Prize-winner Proulx imparts this information with such minute accuracy that it's like seeing a painting up close and magnified, with each tiny brush stroke lovingly emphasized. One grows quite fond of the characters so beset by nature, fate and bizarre accidents, especially old Ace Crouch, a lifelong repairer of windmills, who represents the joke that the title promises. But the novel, which loops ahead and back again in a series of lusty anecdotes, doesn't engage the emotions with the same immediacy as did Postcards and The Shipping News. Readers must settle here for a good story steeped in atmosphere, but not a compelling one. (One-day laydown Dec. 12) Forecast: Nobody captures Americana like Proulx, and the lure of her idiosyncratic characters should spark sales. Her strong stand against rapacious land corporations will attract readers who admire her outspoken opinions.
-- Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

 

SELECTED REVIEWS FOR
Close Range

The Bloomsbury Review - Steven C. Ballinger
Give yourself about 10 days to read this new collection of short stories by Annie Proulx. She has the mantle of American realism about her in style and vision, yet in this book she has broken new ground. It's a book with the best qualities of long-lasting, salty beef jerky. Some things shouldn't be rushed, but savored.

Economist
...[D]efinitely not light summer reading. Here the men are serial adulterers, the women tightly curled shrews, and young cowboys strut their stuff as pedophiles or rapists....Few contemporary writers can match Ms Proulx for descriptive flair.

Entertainment Weekly
The pieces meld seamlessly into each other to create a nuanced portrait of a bleak and windswept world.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
...[P]owerful....[W]hat drives Ms. Proulx's people mainly is lust and lechery, itch and obsession....[R]ead [these stories] for their absolute authenticity, the sense they convey that you are beyond fact or fiction in a world that could not be any other way....Besides, you have little choice about reading [them] once you've begun them....bleak but expressive. —The New York Times

 

Annie Proulx on 'Brokeback Mountain'

Acclaimed US novelist and short story writer Annie Proulx was in Melbourne in March 2011 for a Wheeler Centre/Melbourne Writers Festival event promoting her latest book, 'Bird Cloud'. In this video excerpt, Proulx talks about the origins of her short story, 'Brokeback Mountain'.


Annie Proulx reads "Mistakenly Rendered to Torture..."

...the account by Khaled el-Masri, an innocent victim of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program, December 18, 2005.

This reading is produced by Reckoning With Torture, a collaborative film project between Doug Liman, the ACLU and PEN American Center that examines the human cost of America's post-9/11 torture program.


Annie Proulx Reads from Bird Cloud: A Memoir

The author of The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain visits Dunedin.
Join Annie Proulx as she talks about her latest work—Bird Cloud: A Memoir; which tells the story of the wilderness in Wyoming—the land she fell in love with and built her home upon.

This author can be reached through her literary agent Darhansoff & Verrill.