Award-winning author E. Annie Proulx began her career by writing nonfiction and founding a rural Vermont newspaper. She became the first woman to win the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her first novel Postcards (1992). For her next work, The Shipping News, Proulx won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Proulx followed with the 1996 novel Accordion Crimes. In 1998, her short work "Brokeback Mountain" was named an O. Henry Prize Story. It was made into a feature film in 2005. In addition to these, Proulx has written a number of nonfiction, fiction and short-story collections.
Early Life and Education
Born on August 22, 1935, in Norwich, Connecticut, E. Annie Proulx is the award-winning author of Postcards, The Shipping News and Barkskins. She moved a lot as child because of her father’s work in the textile industry. Her mother was a painter. According to Current Biography, Proulx discovered an interest in writing early on and wrote her first short story at the age of 10.
After graduating high school in Portland, Maine, in the 1950s Proulx briefly studied at Colby College. After some time off, she resumed her education at the University of Vermont, where she graduated with a bachelor's degree in history in 1969. Proulx went on to earn a master’s degree in history from what is now Concordia University in Montreal in 1973. She then began work on a Ph.D., going as far as successfully completing her oral examinations before dropping out to pursue a career as a writer.
Along the way, Proulx married and divorced three times. She had a daughter with her first husband, and he raised their child after they split up. Her second union was brief, and Proulx has refused to talk about it. During her third marriage, to James Lang, she had three sons, whom she raised on her after she and Lang separated.
To support her family, Proulx began writing all manner of nonfiction, including Sweet and Hard Cider (1980) and The Complete Dairy Foods Cookbook (1982). While living in Vermont, she also established The Vershire Behind the Times, a small local newspaper.
Rise to Literary Acclaim
In addition to her freelance work, Proulx also wrote short stories. She told the Washington Post that “I yearned to write fiction, but there wasn't any money in it. I could only write one or two short stories a year. It was my pleasure, my indulgence, when I wanted to do something that wasn't fishing or canoeing." Proulx may not have been able to produce a lot of stories, but the ones she did create were remarkable. In 1988, she made her fiction debut with the collection Heart Songs and Other Stories.
But Proulx’s contract with her publisher also called for her to produce a novel, the result of which was her critically acclaimed Postcards (1992), which follows a man who flees his family’s farm after committing a murder. It also depicts the challenges faced by the family he left behind. Each chapter opens with a postcard, a literary device that was Proulx’s way of "enlist[ing] the aid of the reader in filling in the blanks. The reader writes most of the story." In 1993, she went on to become the first woman to win the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for this work.
Released shortly after Postcards, her novel The Shipping News (1993) also brought Proulx many accolades, including the 1993 National Book Award and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Though Proulx is known for her unsettling endings, this story of a third-rate journalist who relocates to Newfoundland with his family after the death of his wife may be one of the few of her tales to wrap up in a more upbeat way. As she explained to the Guardian, she took on writing this type of ending as a challenge: “I was so tired of people saying that Postcards was dark, and after I'd heard it for the 900th time I thought—OK, so a happy ending is wanted, isn't it. So I thought I'd have an amusing time writing a book with a happy ending. Although the happy part of The Shipping News was the absence of pain, so it's a sort of happiness by default.”
Proulx went on to explore the American immigrant experience in 1996’s Accordion Crimes. Three years later, Proulx, who had moved to Wyoming after the death of her mother, published Close Range: Wyoming Stories. One of the collection’s best-known stories is “Brokeback Mountain,” which explores the relationship between two cowboys. This tale, which appeared in The New Yorker, won an O. Henry Prize in 1998. In 2005 it then became an Academy Award–winning film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Proulx also wrote the libretto for an opera based on the story.
In 2001, a film adaptation of The Shipping News hit theaters, with Kevin Spacey playing Proulx’s broken-down reporter. She continued to explore her interest in the West around this time, publishing the novel That Old Ace in the Hole in 2003. Wyoming also proved to be fertile ground for two more story collections, Bad Dirt (2004) and Fine Just The Way It Is (2008). And in 2011 she returned to nonfiction with Bird Cloud, which detailed her efforts to build a home on her land in Wyoming, as well as examining the history of the area.
In January 2016, Proulx returned once more to fiction with Barkskins, a sprawling novel that employs her deep knowledge of history to tell an environmentally themed tale about the settling of North America.
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