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Early in her career, E. Annie Proulx was a freelance journalist, writing cookbooks, how-to manuals, and magazine articles on everything from making cider to building fences. Her first novel, Postcards (1992), received good reviews. However, it was the enthusiastic reception of her second novel, The Shipping News (1993), that brought her international fame and popular success. Her novel Accordion Crimes (1996) did not enjoy the same acclaim as her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Shipping News.

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Achievements

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For her Postcards, E. Annie Proulx was the first woman to win the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. In 1993, The Shipping News won many awards, including the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, The Irish Times International Fiction Prize, the National Book Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. Four stories from her collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories were selected for the 1998 and 1999 editions of The Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. “The Half-Skinned Deer” was selected for The Best American Short Stories of the Century.

Other literary forms

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Before E. Annie Proulx (prew) began her career as a fiction writer in her mid-fifties, she had done considerable freelance writing in such disparate fields as cider making, driveway and fence repair, canoeing, cooking, and gardening. Having built her own house, she had experience with which to inform how-to books. She also wrote articles of interest to adolescent girls, publishing them regularly in Seventeen. Although she dismisses such work as writing for hire, it promoted her development as a writer of fiction because she researched her topics thoroughly and presented them in the clear and precise prose that would come to characterize her fiction. Her early nonfiction writing served as a valuable apprenticeship for the writing of the fiction that followed.

In 1984, Proulx founded a rural Vermont monthly newspaper, The Vershire Behind the Times, for which she wrote regularly during the years of its existence, 1984-1986. She has published several collections of short stories, including Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999), Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 (2004), and Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 (2008).

Achievements

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Before she had gained a reputation for writing fiction, E. Annie Proulx received the 1986 Garden Writers of America Award following the publication of The Gardener’s Journal and Record Book (1983) and The Fine Art of Salad Gardening (1985). After the publication of her first collection of short fiction, Heart Songs, and Other Stories, in 1988, Proulx received a Vermont Council of the Arts Fellowship, an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and, in 1992, a Guggenheim Fellowship. Following the praise her short stories elicited, Proulx’s publisher urged her to write a novel. The grants she received enabled her to produce her first novel, Postcards, which received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1993 and was also nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Proulx was the first female recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

In 1998, Proulx’s short story “The Half-Skinned Steer” was selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 1998, and the story was also later included in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. Also in 1998, Proulx received the National Magazine Award for her short story “Brokeback Mountain,” which was subsequently adapted for film by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. This daring story tells of two Wyoming ranch hands who, spending a summer together on the range tending flocks of sheep, become lovers. Both ultimately marry women and return to heterosexual lifestyles, although they continue to have brief encounters together in the ensuing years.

Proulx’s novel The Shipping News, which was also adapted as a motion picture (released in 2001), has been praised for its accuracy of dialect and for the authenticity of its descriptions of the harsh Newfoundland landscape where it is set. Proulx studied the language patterns of the people about whom she was writing and also became well versed in the folklore of their communities. This novel received the National Book Award for fiction as well as the Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for Fiction and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize in 1993. In 1994, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In that year, the University of Maine bestowed on Proulx an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. In 1997, Proulx received the John Dos Passos Prize for the full body of her work. In 2002, That Old Ace in the Hole won the Best American Novel Award.

Bibliography

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Elder, Richard. “Don’t Fence Me In.” The New York Times, May 23, 1999, p. 8. An extended review of Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Says the strength of the collection is Proulx’s feeling for place and how it affects her characters. Claims Proulx’s extraordinary knowledge of male behavior is most remarkable in “Brokeback Mountain.” Argues that the best story in the collection is “The Mud Below.”

Hustak, Alan. “An Uneasy Guest of Honor.” The Montreal Gazette, June 10, 1999, p. D10. An interview-story on the occasion of Proulx’s receiving an honorary degree from her alma mater, Concordia University. Provides biographical information about her education and her literary career. Proulx discusses her years as a freelance journalist, the film production based on Shipping News, and the relationship of character to place in her fiction.

Liss, Barbara. “Wild, Wearying Wyoming.” Review of Close Range: Wyoming Stories, by E. Annie Proulx. The Houston Chronicle, June 20, 1999, p. Z23. Praises the book’s magical realism, but suggests that its “downbeat weirdness” will not be to everyone’s taste. Says that “Brokeback Mountain” is the best story, with Proulx pouring a great deal of sympathy on the two young men and their passionate relationship.

“Proulx, E. Annie.” In Current Biography Yearbook 1995, edited by Judith Graham. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1995. Traces Proulx’s life and career through 1994; includes a substantial quote from Proulx listing a series of madcap misadventures from her past.

Rood, Karen L. Understanding Annie Proulx. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001. Rood provides a biography, introduces the themes and techniques used in Proulx’s fiction, and discusses her early work as a nonfiction writer. Includes an annotated bibliography of writings by and about Proulx.

See, Carolyn. “Proulx’s Wild West.” The Washington Post, July 2, 1999, p. C2. See says she is in awe of Close Range, claiming that Proulx has the most amazing combination of things working for her: an exquisite sense of place, a dead-on accurate sense of working class, hard-luck Americans, and a prose style that is the best in English today.

Singleton, Janet. “Proulx’s Keen Insights Focus on Life, not Awards.” The Denver Post, June 6, 1999, p. F3. In this interview-based story, Proulx talks about her research, her nomadic lifestyle, and the stories in Close Range: Wyoming Stories; says she writes stories that question the romantic myth of the West. Singleton claims Proulx’s characters may live in God’s country, but they seem godforsaken.

Steinbach, Alice. “E. Annie Proulx’s Novel Journey to Literary Celebrity Status.” The Baltimore Sun, May 15, 1994, p. 1K. An interview-based story that reveals Proulx’s lighter side. Provides biographical information about her education, marriages, divorces, and rise to fame. Proulx discusses her love of writing, her male characters, and feminism.

Steinberg, Sybil. “E. Annie Proulx: An American Odyssey.” Publishers Weekly 243, no. 23 (July, 1996): 57-58. Discusses how Proulx has been inspired by harsh landscapes and her development of Postcards, The Shipping News, and Accordion Crimes through meticulous research.

Streitfeld, David. “The Stuff of a Writer.” The Washington Post, November 16, 1993, p. B1. A long, interview-based story on Proulx on the occasion of Shipping News being nominated for the National Book Award. Provides much insight into Proulx’s life in rural Vermont, her preference for “the rough side of things” and her rugged independence.

Thompson, David. “The Lone Ranger.” The Independent, May 30, 1999, pp. 4-5. An interview-story that describes Proulx’s life in her Wyoming home. Thompson draws out the cantankerous Proulx better than most other interviewers. He provides some context for Proulx’s life and gets her to talk about what she thinks is important.

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