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 belief systems as well.
After the publication of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,...
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