Annie Dillard

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Date: 2011
Document Type: Biography
Length: 2,243 words

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About this Person
Born: April 30, 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Writer
Other Names: Doak, Annie; Dillard, Annie Doak; Doak, Meta Ann
Updated:Mar. 11, 2011
 
PERSONAL INFORMATION:

Born April 30, 1945, in Pittsburgh, PA; daughter of Frank and Pam Doak; married Richard Dillard (a professor and writer), June 5, 1964 (divorced); married Gary Clevidence (a writer), April 12, 1980 (divorced); married Robert D. Richardson, Jr. (a professor and writer), 1988; children: (second marriage) Cody Rose; Carin, Shelly (stepchildren). Education: Hollins College, B.A., 1967, M.A., 1968. Religion: Roman Catholic. Memberships: International PEN, Poetry Society of America, Society of American Historians, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Citizens for Public Libraries, Phi Beta Kappa.

 
CAREER:

Writer and educator. Harper's, editor, 1973-85; Western Washington University, Bellingham, scholar-in-residence, 1975-79; Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, distinguished visiting professor, 1979-81, full adjunct professor, 1983-98, writer-in-residence, 1987-98; professor emeritus, 1999--. Member of U.S. cultural delegation to China, 1982. Board member for various organizations, including, Western States Arts Foundation, Milton Center, and Key West Literary Seminar; Wesleyan Writers' Conference, board member and chair, 1991--. Member, New York Public Library national literacy committee, National Committee for U.S.-China relations, and Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs. Member of usage panel, American Heritage Dictionary; member of McNair Mentors Program; has served as a juror for various writing prizes, including Yale University Bollingen Prize, Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, and PEN Martha Albrand Award in nonfiction.

 
AWARDS:

Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, 1975, for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; New York Press Club Award for Excellence, 1975, for "Innocence in the Galapagos"; Washington State Governor's Award for Literature, 1977; grants from National Endowment for the Arts, 1982-83, and Guggenheim Foundation, 1985-86; Los Angeles Times Book Prize nomination, 1982, for Living by Fiction; honorary degrees from Boston College, 1986, and Connecticut College, and University of Hartford, both 1993; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 1987, for An American Childhood; Appalachian Gold Medallion, University of Charleston, 1989; St. Botolph's Club Foundation Award, 1989; English-Speaking Union Ambassador Book Award, 1989, for The Writing Life; Teaching a Stone to Talk named a Best Book of the 1980s, Boston Globe; Best Foreign Book Award (France), 1990, for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and 2002, for For the Time Being ; History Maker Award, Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, 1993; Connecticut Governor's Arts Award, 1993; Campion Medal, America magazine, 1994; Milton Prize, 1994; inducted into Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame, 1997; Academy Award in Literature, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1998; fellow, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1999.

 
WORKS:

WRITINGS:

  • Tickets for a Prayer Wheel (poems), University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1974.
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (also see below), Harper's Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1974.
  • Holy the Firm (also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1977.
  • The Weasel, Rara Avis Press (Claremont, CA), 1981.
  • Living by Fiction (also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1982.
  • Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1982.
  • Encounters with Chinese Writers, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1984.
  • (Contributor) Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, edited by William Zinsser, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1987.
  • An American Childhood (also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1987.
  • (Editor, with Robert Atwan) The Best American Essays, 1988, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1988.
  • The Annie Dillard Library (contains Living by Fiction, An American Childhood, Holy the Firm, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and Teaching a Stone to Talk ), Harper (New York, NY), 1989.
  • The Writing Life, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Three by Annie Dillard (contains Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, An American Childhood, and The Writing Life), Harper (New York, NY), 1990.
  • The Living (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
  • The Annie Dillard Reader, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
  • (Editor, with Cort Conley) Modern American Memoirs, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
  • Mornings Like This: Found Poems, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
  • For the Time Being, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
  • (With others) Seeing Beyond: Movies, Visions, and Values: 26 Essays, Golden String Press (New York, NY), 2001.
  • The Maytrees (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.

Columnist, Living Wilderness, 1973-75. Contributing editor, Harper's, 1974-81 and 1983-85. Contributor of fiction, essays, and poetry to numerous periodicals and anthologies, including Atlantic Monthly, American Scholar, Poetry, Mill Mountain Review, Black Warrior Review, Esquire, Ploughshares, Yale Review, American Heritage, Antioch Review, Carolina Quarterly, TriQuarterly, North American Review, New York Times Magazine, New York Times Book Review, Chicago Review, The Lure of Tahiti, The Norton Reader, and Incarnation.

 
MEDIA ADAPTATIONS:

Several of Dillard's writings have been adapted as plays, or as readings to accompany music and art.

 

Sidelights

Annie Dillard has carved a unique niche for herself in the world of American letters. Over the course of her career, Dillard has written essays, a memoir, poetry, literary criticism--even a western novel. In whatever genre she works, Dillard distinguishes herself with her carefully wrought language, keen observations, and original, metaphysical insights. Her first significant publication, 1974's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, drew numerous comparisons to Henry David Thoreau's Walden; in the years since, Dillard's name has come to stand for excellence in writing.

Tickets for a Prayer Wheel was Dillard's first publication. This slim volume of poetry, which expresses the author's yearning for a hidden God, was praised by reviewers. Within months of its appearance, however, Dillard's debut work was completely overshadowed by the release of her second, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

Dillard lived quietly on Tinker Creek in Virginia's Roanoke Valley, observing the natural world, taking notes, and reading voluminously in a wide variety of disciplines, including theology, philosophy, natural science, and physics. Following the progression of seasons, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek she probes the cosmic significance of the beauty and violence coexisting in the natural world.

"One of the most pleasing traits of the book is the graceful harmony between scrutiny of real phenomena and the reflections to which that gives rise," noted a Commentary reviewer of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. "Anecdotes of animal behavior become so effortlessly enlarged into symbols by the deepened insight of meditation. Like a true transcendentalist, Miss Dillard understands her task to be that of full alertness." Other critics found fault with Dillard's work, however, calling it self-absorbed or overwritten. Charles Deemer of the New Leader, for example, claimed that "if Annie Dillard had not spelled out what she was up to in this book, I don't think I would have guessed. ... Her observations are typically described in overstatement reaching toward hysteria."

Dillard's next book delves into the metaphysical aspects of pain. Holy the Firm was inspired by the plight of one of her neighbors, a seven-year-old child who was badly burned in a plane crash. As Dillard reflects on the maimed child and on a moth consumed by flame, she struggles with the problem of reconciling faith in a loving God with the reality of a violent world. Atlantic reviewer C. Michael Curtis stated: "Dillard writes about the ferocity and beauty of natural order with ... grace."

Elegant writing also distinguishes Living by Fiction, in which the author analyzes the differences between modernist and traditional fiction. "Whether the field of investigation is nature or fiction, Annie Dillard digs for ultimate meanings as instinctively and as determinedly as hogs for truffles," remarked Washington Post Book World contributor John Breslin. "The resulting upheaval can be disconcerting ... still, uncovered morsels are rich and tasty."

Dillard returns again to reflecting on nature and religion in Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. In minutely detailed descriptions of a solar eclipse, visits to South America and the Galapagos Islands, and other, more commonplace events and locations. Washington Post Book World contributor Douglas Bauer was pleased with the collection, judging Dillard's essays to be "almost uniformly splendid." In his estimation, Dillard's "art ... is to move with the scrutinous eye through events and receptions that are random on their surfaces and to find, with grace and always-redeeming wit, the connections."

Dillard looked deeply into her past to produce another best seller, An American Childhood. On one level, An American Childhood details the author's upbringing in an idiosyncratic, wealthy family; in another sense, the memoir tells the story of a young person's awakening to consciousness. Critics also applauded Dillard's keen insight into the unique perceptions of youth, as well as her exuberant spirit.

The activity that has occupied most of Dillard's adulthood serves as the subject of The Writing Life. With regard to content, The Writing Life is not a manual on craft nor a guide to getting published; rather, it is a study of a writer at work and the processes involved in that work. Among critics, the book drew mixed reaction. "Dillard is one of my favorite contemporary authors," Sara Maitland acknowledged in the New York Times Book Review. "Dillard is a wonderful writer and The Writing Life is full of joys. These are clearest to me when she comes at her subject tangentially, talking not of herself at her desk but of other parallel cases--the last chapter, a story about a stunt pilot who was an artist of air, is, quite simply, breathtaking. There are so many bits like this. ... Unfortunately, the bits do not add up to a book."

Dillard ventured into new territory with her 1992 publication, The Living, a sprawling historical novel set in the Pacific Northwest. Reviewers hailed the author's first novel as masterful.

Following the 1994 publication of The Annie Dillard Reader, a collection of poems, stories, and essays, Dillard produced two works during 1995. Modern American Memoirs, which she edited with Cort Conley, is a collection of thirty-five pieces excerpted from various writers' memoirs. Authors whose work appears here include Ralph Ellison, Margaret Mead, Reynolds Price, Kate Simon, and Russell Baker.

Mornings Like This: Found Poems, Dillard's other 1995 publication, is an experimental volume of verse. To create these poems, Dillard culled lines from other writers' prose works--Vincent Van Gogh's letters and a Boy Scout Handbook, for example--and arranged the poems to appear as if they were written by a single author. While commenting that Dillard's technique works better with humorous and joyful pieces than with serious ones, a Publishers Weekly critic added that "these co-op verses are never less than intriguing." Haines expressed concern over the implications of Dillard's experiment: "What does work like this say about the legitimacy of authorship?" He concluded, however, that "on the whole the collection has in places considerable interest."

In 1999 Dillard produced another book of theological musings that has been praised as a worthy successor to her earlier works in the genre. For the Time Being specifically addresses the questions of cruelty and suffering. In this volume, Dillard displays a fascination with statistics, quoting facts about the number of dead people in the earth versus the number of living; how many suicides take place each day; what percentage of the population is mentally retarded; and how many people die each day. She describes in clinical detail various birth defects, the wholesale slaughter of enemies practiced by rulers throughout history, and the ritual burial of thousands of living soldiers and concubines with deceased Chinese rulers. As Jean Bethke Elshtain put it in the Journal of Religion, the author "does this through a variety of genres that are not often on display in a single text. Weaving together poetry, vignette, ethnography, autobiography, history, theology, Dillard provides multiple entry points into the mysteries of time, history, natural calamity, and the possibility of grace." "The book is a gradual unveiling of the world as Dillard is obsessed by it, which also, of course, is a gradual unveiling of the author." Maggie Mortimer noted in the National Post that For the Time Being "embodies the cryptic and the insightful," and that "For the Time Being sometimes reaches heights that can only be deemed inspirational."

"Few writers depict what's wrong with the world as vividly as Dillard," concluded Farrell. "At the end of the most brutal century in human history, we, weary, search desperately for the happy ending, the escape, while Dillard urges us not to turn away, coaxes us instead to look Life in the eye. ... Relentlessly. Her books are one tour de force after another." Andre La Sana, critiquing For the Time Being in First Things, concurred, describing Dillard's work as "a valuable attempt to cut us loose from a complacent acceptance of life's enigmas."

Dillard's second novel, The Maytrees, begins as a tale of Toby Maytree, a thirty-year-old poet and carpenter, and the beautiful woman he falls in love with, Lou Bigelow. However, after a child and twelve years of marriage, Toby leaves Lou and their son to begin an affair with a friend of theirs, Deary. Toby and Deary grow old together, but when Deary falls sick in her old age, Toby--an old, weak man by now--cannot take care of her by himself. He then turns to ex-wife Lou for help.

In a review for USA Today, contributor Renee Warner argued: "The Maytrees is first about language and how it can be manipulated, then it's about the Maytrees, but through it all, love is what remains." Although New York Times Book Review contributor Julia Reed criticized the work for being overly wordy at times, she also stated that it is full of "good old straight narrative and prose that is often, yes, breathtakingly illuminative." In a review of the work for The Women's Review of Books, contributor Kate Clinton related: "Dillard claims that after writing The Maytrees she is tired, and she is not going to produce any more novels. This is understandable, but it's a loss."

FURTHER READINGS:

FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

BOOKS

  • Anderson, Chris, Literary Nonfiction: Theory, Criticism, Pedagogy, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1989.
  • Carnes, Mark C., Novel History: Historians and Novelists Confront America's Past (and Each Other), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), pp. 109-118.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 9, 1978, Volume 60, 1990.
  • Detweiler, Robert, Breaking the Fall: Religious Readings of Contemporary Fiction, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
  • Elder, John, Imagining the Earth: Poetry and the Vision of Nature, University of Illinois Press (Chicago, IL), 1985.
  • Fritzell, Peter A., Nature Writing and America: Essays on a Cultural Type, Iowa State University Press (Ames, IA), 1990.
  • Hassen, Ihab, Selves at Risk: Patterns of Quest in Contemporary American Letters, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1991.
  • Johnson, Sandra Humble, The Space Between: Literary Epiphany in the Works of Annie Dillard, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 1992.
  • Lohafer, Susan, and Jo Ellyn Clarey, editors, Short Story Theory at a Crossroads, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1989.
  • Parrish, Nancy C., Lee Smith, Annie Dillard, and the Hollins Group: A Genesis of Writers, Louisiana State University Press (Baton Rouge, LA), 1998.
  • Rainwater, Catherine, and William J. Scheick, editors, Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1985.
  • Slovac, Scott, Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing: Henry Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez, University of Utah Press (Salt Lake City, UT), 1992.
  • Smith, Linda, Annie Dillard, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1991.

PERIODICALS

  • America, April 20, 1974, review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 312; February 11, 1978, review of Holy the Firm, p. 108; May 6, 1978, review of Tickets for a Prayer Wheel, p. 363; April 16, 1988, review of An American Childhood, p. 411; November 25, 1989, review of The Writing Life, p. v161; November 19, 1994, review of The Annie Dillard Reader, p. 2.
  • American Heritage, December, 1993, review of The Living, p. 104.
  • American Literature, March, 1987, review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 71.
  • American Scholar, summer, 1990, review of The Writing Life, p. 445.
  • Atlantic, December, 1977, C. Michael Curtis, review of Holy the Firm, p. 106; October, 1984, review of Encounters with Chinese Writers, p. 126.
  • Best Sellers, December, 1977, review of Holy the Firm, p. 284.
  • Booklist, February 15, 1992, review of The Living, p. 1066; November 15, 1994, review of The Annie Dillard Reader, p. 572; June 1, 1995, review of Mornings Like This: Found Poems, p. 1721; February 1, 1999, review of For the Time Being, p. 939.
  • Christian Century, November 14, 1984, review of Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, p. 1062; June 7, 1989, review of An American Childhood, p. 592; November 15, 1989, review of The Writing Life, p. 1063; October 7, 1992, review of The Living, p. 871.
  • Commentary, October, 1974, review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 87.
  • Commonweal, October 24, 1975, review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 495; February 3, 1978, review of Holy the Firm, p. 94; December 3, 1982, review of Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 668; November 6, 1987, review of An American Childhood, p. 636; March 9, 1990, review of The Writing Life, p. 151.
  • Cross Currents, fall, 2000, Peggy Rosenthal, "Joking with Jesus in the Poetry of Kathleen Norris and Annie Dillard," p. 383.
  • Denver Post, July 15, 2007, "A Love Story Told in Decades: Annie Dillard Explores Marriage in The Maytrees," p. 11.
  • Denver Quarterly, fall, 1985, Mary Davidson McConahay, "Into the Bladelike Arms of God: The Quest for Meaning through Symbolic Language in Thoreau and Annie Dillard," pp. 103-116.
  • English Journal, April, 1989, review of An American Childhood, p. 90; December, 1989, review of An American Childhood, p. 62.
  • Entertainment Weekly, August 7, 1992, review of The Living, p. 54.
  • First Things, April, 2000, Andre La Sana, review of For the Time Being, p. 74.
  • Journal of Religion, July, 2000, Jean Bethke Elshtain, review of For the Time Being, p. 74.
  • Library Journal, March 15, 1982, review of Living by Fiction, p. 638; September 1, 1982, review of Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 1660; November 15, 1984, review of Encounters with Chinese Writers, p. 2150; September 1, 1987, review of An American Childhood, p. 177; May 1, 1989, review of The Writing Life, p. 69; March 15, 1992, review of The Living, p. 124; May 15, 1995, review of Mornings Like This, p. 76; April 1, 1999, review of For the Time Being, p. 103.
  • Los Angeles Times, November 19, 1982, review of Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 38.
  • Mosaic, spring, 1989, Susan M. Felch, "Annie Dillard: Modern Physics in a Contemporary Mystic," pp. 1-14.
  • Nation, November 20, 1982, David Sundelson, review of Living by Fiction, p. 535; October 16, 1989, review of The Writing Life, p. 435; May 25, 1992, review of The Living, p. 692.
  • National Catholic Reporter, May 11, 1990, review of The Writing Life, p. 28.
  • National Post, May 20, 2000, Maggie Mortimer, review of For the Time Being, p. B8.
  • New Leader, June 24, 1974, Charles Deemer, review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 18; November 2, 1987, review of An American Childhood, p. 17; August 10, 1992, review of The Living, p. 17.
  • New Republic, April 6, 1974, review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 32.
  • New Statesman, June 10, 1988, review of An American Childhood, p. 42; December 23, 1988, review of An American Childhood, p. 30; November 9, 1990, review of The Writing Life, p. 34.
  • Newsweek, June 8, 1992, Katrine Ames, review of The Living, p. 57.
  • New Yorker, May 17, 1982, review of Living by Fiction, p. 140; February 14, 1983, review of Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 118; December 25, 1989, review of The Writing Life, p. 106; July 6, 1992, review of The Living, p. 80.
  • New York Times, March 12, 1982, review of Living by Fiction, p. 21; November 25, 1982, review of Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 19.
  • New York Times Book Review, March 24, 1974, review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 4; September 25, 1977, review of Holy the Firm, p. 12; July 1, 1979, review of Holy the Firm, p. 21; May 9, 1982, review of Living by Fiction, p. 10; November 28, 1982, review of Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 13; December 5, 1982, review of Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 34; January 1, 1984, review of Living by Fiction, p. 32; September 23, 1984, review of Encounters with Chinese Writers, p. 29; September 27, 1987, review of An American Childhood, p. 7; September 17, 1989, Sara Maitland, review of The Writing Life, p. 15; May 3, 1992, review of The Living, p. 9; March 28, 1999, review of For the Time Being, p. 9; July 29, 2007, "A Natural History of Love," p. 12 August 19, 2007, Julia Reed, "In Defense of Dillard," p. 4.
  • Old Northwest, winter, 1989-90, Eugene H. Pattison, "The Great Lakes Childhood: The Experience of William Dean Howells and Annie Dillard," pp. 311-329.
  • People, July 20, 1992, review of The Living, p. 27.
  • Progressive, June, 1982, Esther Cohen, review of Living by Fiction, p. 61; December, 1987, review of An American Childhood, p. 31.
  • Publishers Weekly, January 29, 1982, review of Living by Fiction, p. 60; July 20, 1984, review of Encounters with Chinese Writers, p. 73; July 24, 1987, review of An American Childhood, p. 180; July 14, 1989, review of The Writing Life, p. 62; February 24, 1992, review of The Living, p. 41; October 31, 1994, review of The Annie Dillard Reader, p. 45; April 24, 1995, review of Mornings Like This, p. 65.
  • Reason, April, 1990, review of The Writing Life, p. 56.
  • Religion and Literature, summer, 1985, David Lavery, reviews of Living by Fiction, Teaching a Stone to Talk, and Encounters with Chinese Writers, pp. 61-68.
  • Saturday Review, March, 1982, Andrea Barnet, review of Living by Fiction, p. 64.
  • School Library Journal, April, 1988, Carolyn Praytor Boyd, review of An American Childhood, p. 122.
  • Smithsonian, November, 1982, review of Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 219.
  • South Atlantic Quarterly, spring, 1986, review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 111.
  • Spectator, October 13, 2007, "Shifting Hearts, Shifting Sands," p. 61.
  • Studia Mystica, fall, 1983, Joseph Keller, "The Function of Paradox in Mystical Discourse."
  • Theology Today, July, 1986, Eugene H. Peterson, "Annie Dillard: With Her Eyes Open," pp. 178-191.
  • Threepenny Review, summer, 1988, review of An American Childhood, p. 14.
  • Time, March 18, 1974, review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, p. 92; October 10, 1977, review of Holy the Firm, p. E4.
  • Tribune Books, September 13, 1987, review of An American Childhood, p. 1; August 27, 1989, review of The Writing Life, p. 6.
  • USA Today, June 12, 2007, Renee Warner, "In Meandering 'Maytrees,' Love Forms Many Ripples by the Ocean," p. 4D.
  • U.S. Catholic, September, 1992, review of The Living, p. 48.
  • Village Voice, July 13, 1982, review of Living by Fiction, p. 40.
  • Washington Post Book World, April 4, 1982, John Breslin, review of Living by Fiction, p. 4; January 2, 1983, Douglas Bauer, review of Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 6.
  • Women's Review of Books, November 1, 2007, Kate Clinton, "Rudimentary."
  • Yale Review, October, 1992, David Plante, review of The Living, p. 102.

ONLINE

  • Annie Dillard Home Page, http://www.anniedillard.com (July 16, 2010).
  • New York Magazine Online, http://nymag.com/ (June 25, 2007), Daniel Asa Rose, "Legendary Writer Retires: Dillard's Done."
  • NNDB, http://www.nndb.com/ (July 16, 2010), brief author biography.
  • Washington Post Book World Online, http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (July 24, 2010), Daniel Asa Rose, author interview.*

 

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000025609