Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Annie Dillard, born Meta Ann Doak to Frank and Pam (Lambert) Doak on April 30, 1945, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, grew up as a member of the comfortable upper class. At the private schools she attended, she was rebellious and dissatisfied, a bright, precocious young woman who felt that she did not fit in with her surroundings. Frequently in trouble at school—she went joyriding and was suspended once for smoking—Dillard wanted to escape the lifestyle that in her family, school, and class was most young women’s destiny: marriage and the Junior League.
After graduating from high school, Dillard entered Hollins College, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, earning her B.A. (1967) and M.A. (1968), both in English. In 1965, when she was a sophomore at Hollins, she married her creative writing professor, R. H. W. Dillard, a poet and novelist. When she finished her graduate degree, Annie Dillard began painting, concentrating on developing a talent she believed that God had given her. At this time she also began reading voraciously in natural history, literature and criticism, classics, and poetry. She also began keeping track of her reading and experiences in extensive journals, a practice she would continue to follow.
In 1971, after a serious case of pneumonia, Dillard turned her energies outward to exploring the natural world. Her experiences inspired and informed her first book of prose, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which was published in 1974, the same year as her book of poetry Tickets for a Prayer Wheel. Both works deal with finding meaning in a universe that, on the surface at least, appears meaningless and devoid of God. In her twenties, Dillard embraced Christianity, a practice she still adheres to; she claims Catholicism as her denomination, preferring it, she says, to Protestantism. However, as has been observed by many of Dillard’s readers, her work is infused with threads drawn from many other...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Dillard stalks the infinite by tracking the finite in the world of nature. A mystic who looks for a divine force behind the natural world, she is a deeply spiritual person who sometimes can only console her readers with the assurance that they are all participants in the great dance of the universe. That contradictions exist, that danger, tenor, and destruction are part of the world she observes are all facts of life. Her interests revolve almost exclusively around making sense of the events that she observes in the natural world in order to gain entrée to the world of the divine. Dillard’s prose is powerful, evocative and lyrical, and the subjects she examines are of universal interest.
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Annie Dillard, born Annie Doak in 1945, is the oldest of three daughters and was raised in a wealthy Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, family. Her mother, Pam Lambert Doak, and father, Frank Doak, raised her in the Presbyterian faith, encouraged her to pursue a wide range of interests, and pushed her especially to explore the natural world. Her unique childhood is described at length in her 1987 memoir An American Childhood. During high school the future author rebelled against her parents’ wealth and had a turbulent time as a student. At this point, she developed an interest in poetry and took particular interest in the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
After studying English, theology, and creative writing, Dillard received a B.A. in 1967 and an M.A. in 1968 from Hollins College near Roanoke, Virginia. Her master’s thesis, which focused on Thoreau’s Walden (1845), directly influenced her work on the hugely popular Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. After graduation, Dillard began writing in earnest and published several poems. In 1971, after an exceptionally bad bout of pneumonia that almost took her life, she moved to live near Tinker Creek in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley, the setting for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She spent a year living alone, closely observing both the beauty and the violence of the changing seasons. Classified in some realms as a theology book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek incorporates aspects of Buddhism, Sufism, and Christianity, among other philosophies and religions.
Dillard then moved to a cabin on an island in Puget Sound in Washington State, the setting for her 1992 Western novel The Living. An opportunity to teach at Wesleyan University brought her to Connecticut, and she began serving as professor emeritus at Wesleyan in 1999. In 1964, Dillard had married her writing professor, Richard Dillard. After divorcing Richard, she married writer Gary Clevidence in 1980. This marriage also ended in divorce. In 1988, she married award-winning historical biographer Robert D. Richardson, Jr.
Dillard gained fame as a voracious reader—typically reading more than one hundred books a year on an enormous variety of subjects. After years of searching among various religions, she settled on Roman Catholicism. Whether by writing essays or fiction, Dillard captures the essence of what it is to be human.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Annie Dillard (DIHL-urd) occupies an unusual place in contemporary American literature. Through her work in a variety of genres, she consistently affirms the spiritual dimension of existence as it is manifested through the natural world. Dillard was the eldest of the three daughters of Frank and Pam Doak. Her father was a business executive, and Dillard was reared in an upper-middle-class environment; she gives a delightful account of her childhood and adolescence in An American Childhood. She graduated from Hollins College in Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in 1967 and a master’s degree in 1968. In 1965, she married one of her teachers at Hollins, the writer R. H. W. Dillard. They were divorced in 1975. In 1980, she married Gary Clevidence, a novelist, but they too divorced. In 1988, she married Robert D. Richardson, Jr., a professor and writer.
Dillard’s first book was a collection of poems, Tickets for a Prayer Wheel, soon followed by Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1975. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek records Dillard’s observations of nature around Tinker Creek—a valley in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where Dillard lived for several years—interspersed with her reflections on the intricacies, paradoxes, and mysteries of the created world. The work has two recurring motifs. First is Dillard’s insistent, perplexed questionings about the cruel and grotesque aspects of creation: The world is a parasitic place in which everything is battered, torn, preyed upon, and devoured. The second motif is quite different: Dillard has flashes of visionary illumination in which the world appears transfigured and holy. She comes upon a cedar tree, for example, and sees it pulsing with divine fire and light. She feels as if she is seeing for the first time, and she lives for the recurrence of such moments. Yet she is aware that they cannot be consciously willed; they come only when perception is innocent. It is these visionary moments that account for the book’s positive conclusion, in which Dillard presents herself as a pilgrim, praising the mysterious holiness of creation.
Dillard’s style in this book is sometimes informal, conversational, and amusing; at other times it is dense with figurative language and subtle in rhythm, and through these devices Dillard achieves some elevated effects. This richly poetic style is also noticeable in Holy the Firm, which...
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Introduction“Promiscuous” is how Annie Dillard describes herself. Spiritually promiscuous, that is. Dillard grew up Presbyterian, but she rebelled against the church in her teens. The writings of C. S. Lewis brought her back into the fold, but after college she dabbled in several religions until she settled on Roman Catholicism, which she converted to in the 1990s. In her first novel, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Dillard blends themes of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Sufism. That book won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1974, when she was just 29 years old. Dillard has since written several other spiritual books (Holy the Firm and For the Time Being) as well as a memoir and two other novels.
- Dillard has said that her college writing professor—and first husband—R. H. Dillard “taught her everything she knows.”
- Dillard began working on Pilgrim at Tinker Creek after recovering from a terrible case of pneumonia during which she nearly died.
- She spent almost a year transcribing her notes for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and completely isolated herself from the rest of society, often writing for over 15 hours a day.
- Dillard’s work has often been compared to that of Henry David Thoreau, on whom she wrote her 40-page master’s thesis in graduate school.
- Dillard recounted her younger years in the book An American Childhood. Her parents were free thinkers who brought her up to appreciate an eclectic array of pursuits—dancing, theater, music, even plumping!
Meta Ann Doak was born into an upper-middle-class family on April 30, 1945, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She and her two younger sisters were raised under the influences of their free-thinking parents, their wealthy paternal grandparents who lived nearby, and an African-American domestic servant. ‘‘Annie’’ was encouraged from the beginning to think and act independently, to tell stories, and to read books. She took piano and dance lessons, socialized at the country club, and attended the Ellis School, a private school for girls where she studied Latin, French, and German. But she had a keen interest in the natural world even as a girl, and assembled collections of rocks, bugs, and other elements of nature, as well as a collection of favorite poems. Dillard has recounted her early years in an autobiography, An American Childhood (1987).
Dillard’s high school years were turbulent. Like many teenagers, she took up smoking and driving fast, and wrote angry poetry about the hypocrisy and emotional impoverishment of the adults around her. For a time, she even stopped attending the Presbyterian Church she had belonged to since childhood, but she soon felt the loss and returned. Dillard’s struggle to understand God and religion and her fascination with poetic language—even her smoking—surface throughout her writing, including Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
After high school, Dillard attended Hollins College, a women’s college near Roanoke, Virginia, and studied creative writing and religion. At the end of her sophomore year, she married one of her creative writing professors, Richard Dillard. Richard was a strong influence on her writing, encouraging her to develop her skills as a poet and a natural historian. During the marriage, Dillard finished her undergraduate degree in English literature and completed a master’s. The topic of her master’s thesis was Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854). Later, she would use Walden as the model for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
For the next few years, Dillard painted, wrote poetry, read widely, volunteered at local community agencies, and kept extensive journals of her observations and thoughts. In 1973, she turned those journals into Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, working as many as fifteen hours a day to complete the manuscript. She described the process of writing the book in The Writing Life (1989). Individual chapters of Pilgrim were published as essays in influential magazines, and when the full book was published in 1974, it was an immediate success. The book won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. At the time Annie Dillard was just thirty years old. She eventually divorced Dillard and, in 1980, married writer Gary Clevidence.
Over the past quarter century, Dillard has published eight more books, including a novel, two collections of poetry, and several nonfiction volumes. These books have been well received, but Dillard is still known primarily as the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She married another professor and writer, Robert D. Richardson, Jr., in 1988.