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Why Annie Proulx Dislikes Literary Awards

By Matt Reimann. Aug 19, 2014. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Pulitzer Prize, American Literature

Edna Annie Proulx was born August 22nd, 1935, in Connecticut. She spent a significant portion of her early life in the rural American Northeast. As an author, she found inspiration throughout pastoral North America, including Newfoundland, New Mexico, and Wyoming. The agrarian landscape she inhabited - filled with farmers, ranches, and the general frontier spirit - thoroughly characterizes her work.


In 1992, Proulx's first novel, Postcards, won the PEN/Faulkner award - marking the first time the award was given to a female author. The book follows its protagonist on his lone travels through the American West. Her second novel, The Shipping News (1993), won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. As in her first novel, a pioneering attitude of perseverance in the face of loss and alienation accompanies the book's vast rural landscape.

Not only is Proulx an accomplished novelist, she's an accomplished short story writer, a medium she believes more difficult than the novel. Her story "Half-Skinned Steer," was selected for John Updike's edition of The Best American Short Stories of the Century.

Proulx's humility in the face of her considerable accolades is admirable. Her own favorite work is The Accordion Crimes, which, while less awarded than her previous efforts, still exhibits her considerable talents. Proulx has learned to be cautious of her literary awards. As she incurred critical praise, she noticed festivals, and especially universities, started to develop an interest in her. This interest, she saw, was not the result of a particular fondness for her writing, but the result of the powerful cult of celebrity. According to Proulx, universities did not care whether her writing was good or bad, only about her awards, hoping to make her a trophy author for the college faculty.


With characteristic humility, Proulx once joked that literary awards are made every day so that people know which books to read. It's better, she supposes, than choosing a book by its cover.

Perhaps Proulx has good reason to be wary of popularity. To date, her most significant contribution to popular culture is her short story, "Brokeback Mountain." It was published in 1997 and received without fanfare. That all changed in 2005 when the film adaptation was released - its screenplay written by Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry. The story's sudden popularity was jarring enough, but could not to compare to its new, officious, and demanding readership. Proulx has received countless agitated letters from fans about how they wish she had given her story a more happy ending. "Brokeback Mountain" is also something of a darling for the internet fan fiction community. There are scores of amateur writers who have usurped her story and its aftermath, adapting it to better suit their tastes. With all the upheaval she's faced since the movie, Proulx confessed to The Paris Review, "I wish I'd never written the story."

Annie Proulx's life and fiction, set in the wilds of North America, are defined by a spirit of hard work, humility, and rugged individualism. Proulx doesn't care much for awards, book reviews, or ephemeral trends. Rather, she reminds us that writers are bound to readers, not institutions, and the best way to get acquainted with any author is to read her work deeply.

 Browse Annie Proulx Books

Matt Reimann
Reader, specializing in Twentieth Century and contemporary fiction. Committed to spreading an infectious passion for literature, language, and stories.


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