Annie Dillard was born Annie (or Anne, I suppose) Doak in 1945. The oldest of of three sisters, she grew up in Pittsburgh hearing her parents talk through the city. Read An American Childhood; I can't adequately describe it. She attended Hollins College, in Roanoke, VA, where she met (later to marry) her writing teacher, Richard Dillard. They lived in Virginia, where Dillard explored her spiritual and mystical side by a variety of methods, as seen in Tinker Creek.
After their divorce, she got a job as a writer-in-residence and moved out to Washington, where she lived on an island in the sound. She wrote in a garden shed. This method is very appealing.
Dillard has had several marriages, and now lives with her third husband and natural daughter, Rosie. She chainsmokes. She currently teaches creative writing at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut. These do not seem unrelated.
Works, incomplete, and how I find them:
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The breakthrough book, Virginia, 1974. This was a big big deal. A human and natural vision; land and creature and body stand out together harmonically. A difficult book to read, but well worth, or worthy. If you take a single facet and lift it to the light. A certain combination of death and not death, light and not light. You might read this and then some Milan Kundera. It would be an interesting contrast.
Holy the Firm. You combine flight and burn.
An American Childhood. This brings her people and her Pittsburgh close up to your chest like a medallion. You are set immediately in the river valley, in the land as a cup or cradle, in the Ohio, the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the flat snow streets surrounding them. You are not in the steel mills; they are looming in your background, and you look past them to the edges of the rivers, down the river in the plaid-skirted fifties, with a deck of cards and a book and voices through the door of the living room, with cigarette smoke and cut-glass ashtrays, with a whistle and a tap and Li'l Liza Jane playing forever in the background. You are learning the rhetoric of her childhood as much as anything. The land holds you; the river guides you. The streets skip their slippy ice edges to school, and you are at school: penny loafers, chewed pencils, wet mittens.
Teaching a Stone to Talk. This is what you are doing. You are.
The Writing Life. When you take the chances you take in the way you take them, and the scene in your tiny house with your books and your notebooks and your ever-present thought patterns. You are in the library by feel in the dark. You are out on Puget Sound by yourself, scudding thoughts over the water like stones.
You are working. You are still working.
You are there in Puget Sound, up to your neck in rhetoric.
Me, effects on:
I have always been writing in the natural vein in some way. Trees move in a variety of interesting directions. This is a difficult depiction. The tree is the land is the tree is the sky is the tree.
I certainly go more in the plant and earth lines than Dillard. She goes in the animal and human direction. But I have seen her in this my direction as well. I have always been up in the tree. This is not quite a distinction. She has shifted my perceptions. This I cannot quantify.
In a less abstract vein, if I were not reading Annie Dillard, I would be far less jealous of people with good workspace. It would occur to me that I could create an environment in which to really work, but I would not know that anyone had actually achieved this in such detail, in such a variety of places. I would not think about kicking the posture chair under the desk when I leave, especially when I have yet to find a posture chair. I would not relate to a workspace so physically.
Perhaps this is an interesting point. I am more physical as a result of her writing. I actually grasp the branches.