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E. Annie Proulx believes in a broad and deep approach to research. Proulx looks for inspiration at yard sales, in manuals on grape-growing or fence-mending, or in signs on the street. This approach led her to fiction-writing the first time around. After pursuing a doctorate degree in history, Proulx supported herself for fifteen years writing how-to articles and manuals, on subjects ranging from apples to African beads to mice to libraries. Intent on spending some time on living before she started to write, Proulx spent most of her adult life freelancing, living deep in the woods, and getting involved in the back-to-the- land movement. She did not start writing fiction until she was in her fifties. The Shipping News instantly secured Proulx's place on the literary scene. It all began with her first trip to the Great Peninsula in 1988, where she was totally overcome by the uniqueness of this geographic setting. Winner of the National Book Award (1993) and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (1994), the book was the result of nine extended trips to Newfoundland. She felt deeply fascinated by the harsh living conditions and the warmth of the old fishing families. The rising tension between centuries of isolation and the invasion of modern civilization offered her a natural conflict around which The Shipping News came into being. By the time Proulx finished her manuscript, the northern cod stock were at a point of near-distinction. The fishing industry that had sustained Newfoundland for hundreds of years is at a point of disrepair.
The Shipping News was an experiment in writing a novel with a happy ending, after Proulx had received feedback that her first novel seemed dark. She set out to explore a kind of happiness based on the absence of pain instead of the presence of euphoria or glory. Proulx calls the ending in The Shipping News She likes to place her characters against a backdrop of great "mass"—whether it be an overpowering social change or a massive landscape. Proulx credits the The Ashley Book of Knots for helping this novel idea take shape. She found the book at a yard sale for 25 cents.
Proulx acknowledges the way that her family background has affected her career. Born in Connecticut in 1935, she learned her intense work ethic from her father, who was in the textile business. Her mother was a painter, amateur naturalist, and avid storyteller. She learned to spin stories and love the natural world from her mother's side of the family. The oldest of five sisters, Proulx yearned for a brother who she imagined would have done the adventurous kinds of things that never interested her sisters. Always immersed in an all women's world, Proulx became interested in the things that men did that women did not appropriately do. When questioned about her fascination for male characters, she responded that it has to do with a desire to invent a brother for herself. Proulx is the author of two collections of short stories, Heart Songs and Other Stories (1988) and Close Range (2000) as well as two other novels, Postcards (1992) and Accordion Crimes (1996). The Shipping News is her second novel.
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