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AN INTERVIEW WITH ANNIE PROULX Annie Proulx Annie Proulx has published three novels, Postcards (1992), The Shipping News (1993), and Accordion Crimes (1996), and two story collections , Heart Songs and Other Stories (1988) and Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999). She received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Postcards and the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for The Shipping News. She currently lives and writes in Wyoming. This interview was conducted via correspondence by The Missouri Review staff in May 1999. An Interview with Annie Proulx Interviewer: Your stories and novels cover a lot of ground, historically and geographically. Accordion Crimes, for example, is set all over the United States and spans much of the twentieth century. Postcards concerns World War II and post-World War II America. Can you talk about that? Proulx: Place and history are central to the fiction I write, both in the broad, general sense and in detailed particulars. Rural North America, regional cultures in critical economic flux, the images of an ideal and seemingly attainable world the characters cherish in their long views despite the rigid and difficult circumstances of their place and time. Those things interest me and are what I write about. I watch for the historical skew between what people have hoped for and who they thought they were and what befell them. Interviewer: Even your novels and stories that aren't strictly historical all have a sense of history and place somehow going together and being at the center. Proulx: Much of what I write is set in contemporary North America, but the stories are informed by the past; I like stories with three generations visible. Geography, geology, climate, weather, the deep past, immediate events, shape the characters and partly determine what happens to them, although the random event counts for much, as it does in life. I long ago fell into the habit of seeing the world in terms of shifting circumstances overlaid upon natural surroundings. I try to define periods when regional society and culture, rooted in location and natural resources, start to experience the erosion of traditional The Missouri Review · 79 ways, and attempt to master contemporary, large-world values. The characters in my novels pick their way through the chaos of change. The present is always pasted on layers of the past. Interviewer: You studied history at the University of Vermont and Sir George Williams University, now Concordia University, in Montreal. Was there a particular approach to history that most interested you? Proulx: I was attracted to the French Annales school, which pioneered minute examination of the lives of ordinary people through account books, wills, marriage and death records, farming and crafts techniques , the development of technologies. My fiction reflects this attraction. Interviewer: Had you already decided to write fiction during your university years? Proulx: No, while I was studying history I had no thought of writing fiction and no desire to do so. Interviewer: Was there any pivotal moment that propelled you toward writing fiction? Proulx: The pivotal moment was not a moment but a slow, slow turning . I left graduate school and the study of history to live in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom with a friend. We were in a remote area with limited job possibilities; I started writing nonaction, mostly magazine journalism and how-to books, for income. At the same time I began to write short fiction, mostly stories about hunting and fishing and rural life in northern New England, subjects that interested me intensely at the time. Almost all of these stories were published in Gray's Sporting Journal, then a new and strikingly beautiful quarterly concerned with the outdoor world in the same way Hemingway's Nick Adams stories are about the outdoor world—the primary weight on literature, not sport. There was an intense camaraderie and shared literary excitement among the writers whose fiction appeared in Gray's, something I have never encountered since. It may have been that the struggles to get paid by Gray's created a bond of shared adversity among the writers; it may have been the genuine pleasure in being part ofthis unusual publication that valued serious outdoor writing in contrast to the hook...


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