This Day In Writing History
On April 30th, 1945, the famous American writer Annie Dillard was born. She was born Annie Doak in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The oldest of three daughters, Annie's parents were affluent, but liberal and non-conformist.
They believed in nurturing their children's creativity, curiosity, and sense of humor; as a young girl, Annie took piano and dance lessons, collected rocks and insects, and read voraciously. Her father taught her about everything from plumbing and economics to Jack Kerouac's classic novel, On The Road (1957).
Though her parents weren't churchgoers, Annie attended a local Presbyterian Church and went to a Presbyterian youth camp. When as a teenager she told her minister she was rejecting her religion because of its hypocrisy, he gave her a collection of books by C.S. Lewis, which changed her mind about Christianity.
After graduating from high school, Annie attended Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia, where she studied literature and creative writing. She married her writing professor, poet R.H.W. Dillard.
By 1968, she earned a Master's degree in English, writing her thesis on Henry David Thoreau's Walden (1854), focusing on Walden Pond as "the central image and focal point for Thoreau's narrative movement between heaven and earth."
Annie Dillard began her writing career by publishing poetry and short stories. In 1971, after recovering from a near-fatal case of pneumonia, she began work on what would be her most famous book.
For eight years, she'd lived near Tinker Creek, a suburban area where she was surrounded by woodlands, creeks, mountains, and many different species of animals. It took her eight months to complete her book.
Cut off from the outside world and having no interest in the events of the time, such as the Watergate scandal, she would sometimes write for up to 15 hours a day. Annie's finished book, published in 1975, won her a Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a Walden-esque collection of essays about Tinker Creek and its inhabitants. Dillard combines nature studies, philosophy, and spirituality to create a deeply introspective work of non-fiction.
It sold more than 37,000 copies in the first two months of publication and go through eight separate printings the first two years. Dillard was compared to Thoreau, and her book became required reading during the environmentalist movement of the 1970s.
At the time, Annie's spiritual outlook was a combination of elements from various religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Sufism, and even Eskimo spirituality - much like the transcendentalism of Thoreau and Emerson.
After making a name for herself with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard moved to the state of Washington and became the writer-in-residence at Western Washington University. She divorced, remarried, and had a daughter named Rosie.
She continued to write and publish both fiction and non-fiction, including a memoir about growing up in Pittsburgh called An American Childhood (1987). For a while, she taught in the English department at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
She currently lives with her third husband, biographer Robert D. Richardson, and divides her time between Hillsborough, North Carolina and Wythe County, Virginia. Her most recent book, a novel called The Maytrees, was published in 2007.
Quote Of The Day
"Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spins the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair." - Annie Dillard
Today's video features a reading from Annie Dillard's classic book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Enjoy!