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Annie Dillard Biography
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Annie Dillard
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Annie Dillard was born in 1945, and is now forty-nine and living and teaching in Connecticut (for perspective, Tinker Creek was written in 1974, when she was twenty-nine). She has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, it seems. Often she reads over 100 books a year, on just about any topic imaginable. She's been this way from her childhood on.

Annie is the oldest of three daughters, born to affluent parents. Her parents encouraged her to be creative and explore her surroundings. They taught her to have a good sense of humor. Her mother was defiant, a non-conformist, and incredibly energetic. Her father taught her everything from plumbing to economics to the intricacies of the novel On The Road. Annie enjoyed a childhood filled with many good memories - days of piano and dance classes, and rock and bug collecting. But there were also many troubles -- like Hitler's rise and the horrors of war.

During her high school years, Annie rebelled against her affluent, country club upbringing. She hated everyone, got into trouble in school a lot. Around this time, her academic interests turned to poetry. She read all sorts of poetry, and was particularly interested in Ralph Waldo Emerson. She also wrote a lot of poetry on her own, sometimes using her own style, sometimes trying to imitate her favorite authors. Her interests in wildlife continued as well - with Annie still rereading her longtime favorite book once a year - The Field Book of Ponds & Streams.

Next, Annie went to college at Hollins College, near Roanoke, Virginia and studied English, theology, and creative writing. She married her writing teacher, Richard Dillard (her maiden name is Doak) -- the person she says "taught her everything she knows" {Smith, 7} about writing. In 1968 she graduated with a Masters in English, after creating a 40-page thesis on Thoreau's Walden, which focused on the use of Walden Pond as "the central image and focal point for Thoreau's narrative movement between heaven and earth." {Smith, 7} When you read Tinker Creek it's obvious that Thoreau had an enormous influence on her own style of writing. The next couple of years after graduation, Annie spent painting, and writing, having several poems published.
One thing I should mention now is Annie's religious background. Her family attended Presbyterian church when she was a child. She spent a few summers at a fundamentalist summer camp. During her rebellious teenage years, she quit her church because of the "hypocrisy". But, her priest was able to lure her back the next month with a well-thought-out argument based on the works of CS Lewis. After her college years, Annie became, as she says, "spiritually promiscuous," incorporating the ideas of many religious systems into her own personal religious world-view. Not only are there references to Christ, and the Bible in Tinker Creek, but also to Sufism, Buddhism, the Eskimo's religious system, and Hasidic Jews, just to name a few. She tries to look at every situation from every angle. (Just recently, Annie has converted to the Catholic Church.)

Annie's writing Tinker Creek was indirectly influenced by a near fatal attack of pneumonia which she was stricken with in 1971. After she recovered, Annie decided that she needed to experience life more fully. She spent four seasons living near Tinker Creek, an area surrounded by forests, creeks, mountains, and a myriad of animal life. She spent her time outdoors mostly, walking and camping, just being there with the nature. When she was inside, she mostly read. After living there for about a year, Annie began to write about her experiences there by the creek (challenged to write a book herself because the one she was reading at the moment was particularly bad). She started by writing a journal of her experiences, then transposed it all to notecards when the journal reached 20-plus volumes. It took her about 8 months to turn the notecards into the well-crafted Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Towards the end of the 8 months she was so absorbed that she was spending 15, 16 hours a day writing, cut off from society, not even keeping up with the latest world news, living on coffee and coke. She lost 30 pounds and all of her plants died - she was so absorbed she forgot about everything else.

Annie was timid about presenting her book to the public. She even thought of publishing it under a man's name, because she was worried that a theology book by a woman would not be well-received. But, she was worrying for no reason. The book was incredibly well-received. In 1975 she was awarded the Pulitzer for general non-fiction. The fame that came along with a Pulitzer winning book did not sit well with Annie. She didn't trust it. For example, she was bothered by all of the people who were coming to her wanting poems -- that had rejected her works in the past before she was famous. She moved to an isolated cabin on an island in the Pugent Sound, and lived there for a while before moving to Connecticut to teach. In 1982 she was honored with an invitation to take part in a cultural delegation of scholars, traveling with them to China.

Since Tinker Creek, Annie has continued to write. Some of her other works include Ticket for a Prayer Wheel, a book of poetry, and An American Childhood, an autobiography of her early years. Her writing continues to meet with critical acclaim. She has been divorced and has remarried several times, and has a daughter now, born in 1984. The latest information I could find says that her current husband is a man named Robert who wrote "the best biography she had ever read" {Smith, 14} on Thoreau. Annie now works at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, as an adjunct professor of English and a writer-in-residence.

Written by Sandra Stahlman Elliott

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