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E. Annie Proulx

"I am the oldest of five girls. I was born in Connecticut in 1935, where my mother's English ancestors -- farmers, mill workers, inventors, artists -- have lived for 350 years. My father's Franco-Canadian grandparents came to New England in the 1860s to work in the woolen mills. My father was in the textile business and we moved frequently when I was a child as he worked his way up the executive ladder. I suspect my intense and single-minded work habits stem from his example. My mother is a painter and amateur naturalist, and from her I learned to see and appreciate the natural world, to develop an eye for detail, and to tell a story. There is a strong tradition of oral storytelling in my mother's family and, as a child, I heard thousands of tales and adventures made out of nothing more substantial than the sight of a man digging clams, an ant moving a straw, an empty shoe.

"I've lived in Vermont for more than three decades, studies history at the University of Vermont and Concordia University in Montreal. In hindsight, I recognize that learning to examine the lives of individuals against the longue duree of events was invaluable training for novel-writing.

"There were few teaching jobs in history in the seventies, and I shifted from academic study to freelance journalism and for the next 15 years wrote articles on weather, apples, canoeing, mountain lions, mice, cuisine, libraries, African beadwork, cider, and lettuces for dozens of magazines. Whenever I could squeeze in the time I wrote short stories.

"In 1988, Scribners published a collection of these stories, Heart Songs and Other Stories. My editor encouraged me to write a novel, and this first effort was Postcards. Around the time Heart Songs was published I made my first trip to Newfoundland.

Rarely have I been so strongly moved by geography as I was during that first journey up the Great Northern Peninsula. The harsh climate, the grim history, the hard lives and the generous, warm characters of the outport fisherman and their families interested me deeply. Yet I could also see contemporary civilization rushing in on the island after its centuries of isolation and the idea for The Shipping News began to form. Over the next few years I made nine trips of Newfoundland, watching, observing, taking notes, listening. I am keenly interested in situations of change, both personal and social, and in this book I wanted to show characters teetering along the highwires of their lives yet managing to keep their balance, lives placed against a background of incomprehensible and massive social change.

"The manuscript was completed several months before the Canadian government, alarmed at the decline of the northern cod stock, imposed a fishing moratorium in Newfoundland. Two years later the cod have not recovered, but are at the point of near-extinction. With their disappearance the Newfoundland fishing economy has collapsed. It is now generally observed on the island that the old outport fishing life that sustained Newfoundlanders for centuries is finished."


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Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Newfoundland and Labrador Fiction