Annie Proulx, the oldest of five girls, was born to Lois and George Proulx in Norwich, Connecticut, in the New England region where her maternal relatives settled in 1635. Her father’s ancestors came to New France in 1657, and Proulx considers the historical English/French enmity important to her world view. Her genetic heritage puts her in haplogroup U5a1g with a strong link to northern Scandinavia. During her childhood, the family moved frequently, following George Proulx’s career in the textile industry. Lois Gill Proulx was an amateur naturalist and landscape painter. She came from a family of story-tellers and saw that the Proulx household had books. Both parents were avid readers, and the children were allowed to read during meals. Proulx wrote her first short story as a class assignment when she was ten years old but never entertained any thoughts of being a writer; she identified herself as a reader, and wherever the family moved the local library was the central attraction and a refuge. Proulx went to high school in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and Portland, Maine, attended Colby College briefly, dropped out and years later received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in history from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University). She lived for several decades in Vermont, where she and a friend founded The Vershire Behind the Times, a local newspaper. She began her writing career as a journalist but also published articles and a few short stories in the early 1960s while living rough in northern Vermont. Married three times and the mother of four children, Proulx only began writing seriously in her late fifties after her children left home. From the beginning her work centered on place and history, stories set in rural worlds out of step with contemporary culture, characters struggling against the rigid and difficult circumstances of their time. Both novels and stories are built on large themes of social problems. Her first collection of stories, Heart Songs and Other Stories, appeared in 1988, concerned with fading rural life styles, and was followed by her first novel, Postcards (1992), on the demise of Vermont hill farms and exodus to urban centers, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award. Her second novel, The Shipping News (1993), was set against the failure of the Newfoundland cod fishery and won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction.
Her later short story collections include Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999), Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 (2004), and Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 (2008); her later novels are Accordion Crimes (1996), concerned with immigration and regional music; That Old Ace in the Hole (2002), about the conversion of panhandle Texas farms to hog ranches and feedlots; and, most recently, Barkskins (2016), an ecological novel of the Anthropocene concerned with deforestation and now in production for a National Geographic television series. Proulx is also the author of Bird Cloud: A Memoir (2011). “Brokeback Mountain,” a picture of rural homophobia, was one of the stories in Close Range, and the basis of a 2005 film and an opera for which Proulx wrote the libretto. The Shipping News was adapted for the screen in 2001. She has twice won the O. Henry Prize for the best short story of the year—in 1998, for “Brokeback Mountain” and in 1999, for “The Mud Below.” Another of her stories, “The Half-Skinned Steer,” was included in The Best American Short Stories: 1998 and The Best American Short Stories of the Century (1999). Among her other honors are the John Dos Passos Award for Literature and NEA and Guggenheim Fellowships. In the 1990s, Proulx moved to Wyoming, where she remained until moving recently to the Seattle area, where she now lives, pursuing interests in marine biology and the active Cascadian fault.