The Life of an Author in Demand 1994 Pulitzer Winner E. Annie Proulx Discusses the Popularity of Her Fiction and Changes in Her Quiet Writer's Existence
Suzanne L. MacLachlan, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
IN April, E. Annie Proulx (the "E" stands for Edna, which she doesn't like) had just returned home to Vershire, Vt., from a trip to New York or Washington - she doesn't remember which.
She was standing in the kitchen, fixing herself a cup of coffee, when the telephone rang. It was the book editor of a large metropolitan newspaper telling her she had won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Fiction for her second novel, "The Shipping News."
"It was hours before I got that cup of coffee," Ms. Proulx says, recalling how the phone rang constantly for the next three days. "I was stupefied. A lot of prizes have come my way this year, but this one was so remote to me, so unlikely, I didn't even think about it."
"It left me gasping," she admits.
In the year since the "The Shipping News" was published, Proulx (rhymes with "true") has had precious little time to enjoy a cup of coffee in her kitchen, much less to write. In addition to the Pulitzer, "The Shipping News" won the 1993 National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Award, among others.
The book, which recently came out in paperback, has reached No. 1 on the Publishers Weekly trade paperback bestseller list. Proulx, meanwhile, has been touring the country, reading from and autographing her books and meeting the press.
"It has changed my life immensely," she says, sitting on a park bench in Boston, dressed in a T-shirt and no-nonsense skirt - good traveling pieces. Her short, shaggy dark hair also bespeaks a no-time-for-fuss lifestyle. "It's not so much that I cherish solitude, as that I need a sustained quietness to write. But you take it in stride, you know it comes to an end one of these days."
"But it will stop. I'm not doing it any more, and I'm going back to work," she adds tersely.
The life of a "writer in demand" has taken this author by surprise, much the same way that Proulx has taken the book world by surprise. While her freelance articles have been appearing in magazines such as Esquire, New England Monthly, Yankee, and Gray's Sporting Journal since 1975, her first collection of short stories, "Heart Songs and Other Stories," was published only six years ago, in 1988.
"I've known that I could write for a very long time," says Proulx, who was born in 1935, the oldest of five girls. "What was odd is that I'd only thought of myself as a short-story writer, not a novelist at all." Part of the contract with her publisher, however, called for an unwritten work called simply, "novel."
"The novel requirement was thrown in there almost as an aside," Proulx says. "But after the short stories were published and did quite well, my editor called me and said, `How about writing that novel now?' "
Feeling skeptical, Proulx nevertheless sat down and in an afternoon laid out the idea for "Postcards," a 1992 book about the turmoil of a Vermont farming family, which went on to win the 1993 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Proulx is the first woman to win the coveted prize, which was established in 1980.
The author adamantly dismisses any suggestion that her gratification over winning the PEN/Faulkner Award was related to the fact that it was finally being awarded to a woman. "I didn't win the award. The book won the award," she insists. "The book doesn't have any sex."
She is equally unequivocal about the often-lavish praise given to "Postcards," "The Shipping News," and her skills as a writer. …