I so enjoy Garrison Keillor’s daily Writer’s Almanac and particularly loved this story in today’s:
It’s the birthday of writer Annie Proulx, who also goes by E.A. Proulx or E. Annie Proulx, born Edna Annie Proulx in Norwich, Connecticut (1935). Her father was French Canadian and worked at a textile mill. Her mother, a painter, came from a family that had lived in Connecticut for 300 years. Proulx said that her mother taught her how to observe “everything — from the wale of the corduroy to the broken button to the loose thread to the disheveled mustache to the clouded eye.”
She went to college, dropped out, then went back, got a master’s, then dropped out of her Ph.D. program. Throughout those years, she got married and divorced three times, had children, worked as a waitress, worked for the post office, and wrote articles for magazines. She wrote about all kinds of things. She made a living, supporting herself and her three sons. She lived in remote places, for a while in a shack in northern Vermont where she foraged, hunted, and fished. She said, “I can do these little chores — getting in my wood or planting in the garden — and feel quite enriched.”
And occasionally, she took all that training in observation and wrote short stories. She was so busy that she only averaged about two a year, but she never had trouble getting them published. Finally, she had enough to put together a book, Heart Songs (1988). Her editor was writing up the contract for it and he suggested they put in a novel because she would probably be good at it. Proulx just laughed at him and said she had no idea how to write a novel. But after a while, another editor suggested the same thing, and she said, “I sat down, and within a half-hour, the whole of Postcards was in my head.”
Postcards was published in 1992, got great reviews, and she won the PEN/Faulkner Award, the first woman ever to win it. One year later, she published The Shipping News (1993), set in Newfoundland, and she won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She moved to Wyoming in 1994, and published short stories inspired by her new home. Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999) included the story “Brokeback Mountain,” which was made into a hit film in 2005. Her most recent book is Fine Just the Way It Is (2008), another set of Wyoming stories.
She firmly disagrees with the advice “write what you know.” She says it produces “tiresome middle-class novels of people who I think are writing about things they know, but you wish to God they didn’t. My thing is, learn what you want to write about. Find out about it.”
She said, “I believe if you get the landscape right, the characters will step out of it, and they’ll be in the right place. The story will come from the landscape.”
And Proulx said: “I read omnivorously, I always have, my entire life. I would rather be dead than not read. So, there’s always time for that. I read while I eat, and our whole family did. We all had very bad manners at the table. All of our books are stained with spaghetti sauce, and that sort of thing.”