Annie Dillard Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Annie Dillard is someone for whom nature holds special significance. In what ways does nature have an impact on her thinking and on her beliefs?

If Dillard is a philosopher of life, someone who searches for meaning in a seemingly meaningless universe, then what answers does she find in nature? What contradictions?

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek explores the violence and isolation inherent in the living world and universe. What specific examples illustrate this perspective? How does Dillard use such vignettes to make a larger point?

Dillard asserts that she is a Christian. In what ways do her writings such as Holy the Firm support this worldview and in what ways do they depart from a purely Christian perspective?

Memoir is a particular form of narrative writing that involves the purely personal. In what ways are An American Childhood and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek examples of this form? Why would someone choose to write in this way? In what ways do these books go beyond the individual to make larger statements?

The Living focuses on the settling of the American West. What is it about the West that symbolizes the spirit of America? How are these aspects of the American Dream evoked in this novel?

Dillard is often described as a writer who focuses on what it means to be a writer. What specific kinds of instruction about being and becoming a writer can you find in such books as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Teaching a Stone to Talk, and An American Childhood?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Annie Dillard has received critical acclaim for her ability to write in many forms. Highly regarded as a writer of nonfiction, memoirs, essays, and philosophy, she has made many contributions to such periodicals as The Atlantic Monthly, American Scholar, Harper’s, Esquire, The Yale Review, and The New York Times Magazine. Her first publication, Tickets for a Prayer Wheel (1974), is a book of poems about her search for God. Her 1974 nonfiction book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which earned a 1975 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, remains the author’s most popular book. Also in nonfiction, Holy the Firm (1977), Living by Fiction (1982), and Encounters with Chinese Writers (1984) received high literary praise, while her memoir An American Childhood (1987) received similar acclaim.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Annie Dillard has earned most of her many prestigious nonfiction awards for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. In addition to a Pulitzer Prize, she was honored with the Washington State Governor’s Award for Literature (1977), and she received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982. She was honored with the Appalachian Gold Medallion from the University of Charleston and the St. Botolph’s Club Foundation Award, both in 1989. In 1993, she received the History Maker Award from the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania and the Connecticut Governor’s Arts Award, the Campion Medal from America magazine, and the Milton Prize the following year. In 1997, she was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. She also received an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998 and became a fellow of that academy in 1999. Dillard also has honorary degrees from Boston College (1986), Connecticut College (1993), and the University of Hartford (1993).


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Clark, Suzanne. “Annie Dillard: The Woman in Nature and the Subject of Nonfiction.” In Literary Nonfiction: Theory, Criticism, Pedagogy, edited by Chris Anderson. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. Clark’s analysis probes Dillard’s prose style in order to question how one knows that this is “woman’s” writing.

Johnson, Sandra Humble. The Space Between: Literary Epiphany in the Work of Annie Dillard. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1992. A study of literary epiphany, this work examines Dillard’s writing as a “perusal of illumination.” Includes a secondary bibliography and a thorough index.

McClintock, James. Nature’s Kindred Spirits: Aldo Leopold, Joseph Wood Krutch, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and Gary Snyder. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994. A study of five contemporary American writers whose work is based upon experiences in nature.

Parrish, Nancy C. Lee Smith, Annie Dillard, and the Hollins Group: A Genesis of Writers. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Parrish shares many interesting anecdotes about Dillard during her formative years at Hollins College and shows how her college experiences carried over to her writing.

Rosenthal, Peggy. “Joking with Jesus in the poetry of Kathleen Norris and Annie Dillard.” Cross Currents 50, no. 3 (Fall, 2000): 383. Rosenthal considers the attempts of Dillard and Norris to uncover the sacred in daily life through their poetry.

Smith, Linda L. Annie Dillard. New York: Twayne, 1991. A biographical work that sums up Dillard’s career and anticipates its future direction.