Edna Annie Proulx (prew) was born August 22, 1935, in Norwich, Connecticut, to George Proulx, vice president of a textile company and Lois Proulx, a painter who traced her family history in Connecticut back to the year 1635. Lois Proulx was an amateur naturalist who encouraged the young Annie to observe small details of everyday life and the natural world, a habit that would later develop into the detailed research that contributed depth and realism to Proulx’s fiction.
In the early 1950’s Proulx briefly attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine, but left without completing a degree. She returned to college in 1963 and in 1969 graduated cum laude from the University of Vermont with a bachelor of arts degree in history. During these years Proulx was married and divorced three times; a daughter from her first marriage lived with Proulx’s first former husband while Proulx raised three sons from her second and third marriages.
In 1973 Proulx graduated from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) in Montreal with a master of arts degree in history. She completed all the work for a doctoral degree in Renaissance European economics and passed the oral examinations in 1975 but decided not to complete her dissertation, as there were so few teaching jobs available in her field.
The eldest of five sisters, Proulx had been drawn from an early age to the outdoor life; after leaving school she moved to a small cabin in the Vermont woods and spent much of her time hunting, fishing, and canoeing. In the 1980’s she supported herself and her sons by working as a freelance journalist, publishing dozens of magazine articles on topics ranging from fishing and making cider to growing apples and lettuce. Eventually she accepted assignments to write do-it-yourself handbooks about gardening, cooking, and home-building projects. These books often provided historical illustrations and background in addition to instructional material, early evidence of Proulx’s devotion to research and historical detail. In 1986 she received a Garden Writers Association of America award for her how-to books and cookbooks. Although the subject matter reflected Proulx’s interest in the back-to-the-land movement and self-sufficiency, over time she found nonfiction manuals less interesting to write.
Proulx enjoyed writing fiction and had published several short stories in Seventeen magazine while she was in graduate school. Even while writing nonfiction on assignment, she managed to produce one or two short stories each year. Though she was able to sell most of her short stories, Proulx never thought she could make a living writing fiction. Two of these early stories were listed as “Distinguished Short Stories” in Best American Short Stories for 1983 and 1987.
In the early 1980’s Tom Jenks, an editor at Esquire magazine, accepted three of Proulx’s stories for publication, giving her exposure to a larger, national audience. When Jenks took a job at the publisher Charles Scribner’s Sons, he offered Proulx an opportunity to publish her first collection, Heart Songs, and Other Stories. Although Heart Songs was well-reviewed, Proulx, then in her early fifties, still did not think of herself as a writer.
Although Proulx had no desire to write longer fiction, Jenks had included a clause in her publishing contract committing her to write a novel. With financial support from arts foundations in Vermont and Wyoming and inspired by a collection of old postcards with mug shots of escaped convicts, Proulx began writing fiction full-time. Her first novel, Postcards, tells the story of a Vermont family struggling to keep their farm afloat after their son murders his girlfriend and leaves home. Proulx was surprised to find longer fiction less demanding to write than the short story; rather than paring down her prose, she could expand on what she wished to say. Critics hailed Postcards as an emotionally powerful and brilliantly written debut. When Proulx won the...
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