Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is widely recognized as an important personal essay, uniquely and powerfully combining theology and nature writing. Nancy Parrish reports in Lee Smith, Annie Dillard and the Hollins Group: A Genesis of Writers that the book’s success was immediate: ‘‘thirty-seven thousand copies of Pilgrim were sold within two months of first publication; the book went through eight printings in the first two years; paperback rights and Book-of-the-Month Club selection brought her $250,000 within three months.’’ The book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.
Most early reviewers responded favorably to the book, including Eva Hoffman, writing for Commentary, who termed Dillard a ‘‘connoisseur of the spirit’’ and praised her for her ‘‘rare ability to create emotional tone.’’ Others, including the fiction and essay writer Eudora Welty (herself a Pulitzer Prize winner), found Dillard’s language and structure needlessly opaque. In a review for the New York Times Book Review, Welty quoted Dillard’s passage about the ‘‘great dog Death’’ at the end of the ‘‘Fecundity’’ chapter and commented, ‘‘I honestly do not know what she is talking about at such times. The only thing I could swear to is that the writing here leaves something to be desired.’’
Aside from reviews, there was no criticism of the book for several years. In 1983, Margaret Loewen Reimer’s Critique article, ‘‘The Dialectical Vision of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at...
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