It seems that, for Annie Proulx, it’s always been about the story. Interviews reveal her to be a voracious reader, as well as entirely at ease with having debuted as a writer in her 50s. And one has only to look at her prose to see Proulx’s love of her characters’ lives, and—as T.L. Khleif describes in Monday’s feature—how beautifully she can render both their despair and their determination to transcend.
“For most of my adult life I simply didn’t think of myself as a writer. But I was always a reader—an omnivorous, greedy one. It’s probably natural for readers to move into writing, and that’s essentially what happened to me. When I finally did have some time to explore what I liked to do, I knew it certainly wasn’t going to be an academic life of any sort. Creating people out of nothing and putting them on paper seemed like an amusing and interesting thing to do. And I could continue with research. So it was more a redrawing of myself in another persona than a frustrated woman’s finally finding time to write. It wasn’t like that at all. If I’d wanted to write earlier you can bet I would have.” —“A Conversation with E. Annie Proulx,” The Atlantic (1997)
“He was fired. And he was glad, for he did not want life to be a kind of fidgety waiting…as for a report card. He wanted to aim at a high mark on a distant wall. If time had to pass, let it pass with meaning. He wanted direction and reward.” —That Old Ace in the Hole (2002)
“You all know we are only passing by. We only walk over these stones a few times, our boats float a little while and then they have to sink.” —The Shipping News (1994)
“‘The world is a staircase,’ hissed the accordion maker in the darkness. ‘Some go up and some come down. We must ascend.’” —Accordion Crimes (1997)
“I would rather be dead than not read.” —from an interview with John Dextrixhe for Bookslut (2005)
“There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it you’ve got to stand it.” —“Brokeback Mountain,” from Close Range : Wyoming Stories (1999)
“We face up to awful things because we can’t go around them, or forget them. The sooner you say ‘Yes, it happened, and there’s nothing I can do about it,’ the sooner you can get on with your own life. … So you’ve got to get over it. What we have to get over, somehow we do. Even the worst things.” —The Shipping News
“It is impossible not to think about those old ash-spewing volcanoes when moving through Wyoming. The sagebrush seems nearly black and beaten low by the ceaseless wind. Why would anybody live here, I think. I live here.” —Bird Cloud: A Memoir of Place (2011)
“…if a bird with a broken neck could fly away, what else might be possible? Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat’s blood, mountaintops give off cold fire, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, and that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.” —The Shipping News
“What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, ‘Write what you know.’ It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don’t develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one.” —“A Conversation with E. Annie Proulx”
1 Proceed slowly and take care.
2 To ensure that you proceed slowly, write by hand.
3 Write slowly and by hand only about subjects that interest you.
4 Develop craftsmanship through years of wide reading.
5 Rewrite and edit until you achieve the most felicitous phrase/sentence/paragraph/page/story/chapter.
—from a Guardian article prompting writers to provide their top ten writing tips
Click here to read T.L. Khleif’s feature piece on Annie Proulx.
Author photo credit: Gus Powell