Pulitzer Prize winning Annie Dillard (who has her 71st birthday later this month on the 30th) is a writer whose way with words is stunning; so rich, alive and evocative. For me, that’s especially the case in her narrative non-fiction essays (I’m not such a fan of her novels). My favourite collection is her 1977 publication Holy the Firm which was birthed in 1975 when she took up residence, following the end of her marriage, on Lummi island in the Puget Sound. Dillard has changed the way I see; has changed, in my better moments, how I engage the natural world around me, whether that be lake, mountain, forest, and especially coast. I’m fortunate enough to have long has a 1st edition copy of her award winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (pub. 1975) but have yet to find the right reading space,the time, or to be in the right mood to really read and savour it.
In recognition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s long and lauded career as a master essayist, a landmark collection (The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New), including her most beloved pieces and some rarely seen work, has recently been published (15th March 2016 / 304 pages) by Ecco Press. It is introduced by Geoff Dyer. You'll find a review here.
“A writer who never seems tired, who has never plodded her way through a page or sentence, Dillard can only be enjoyed by a wide-awake reader,” warns Geoff Dyer in his introduction to this stellar collection. Carefully culled from her past work, The Abundance is quintessential Annie Dillard, delivered in her fierce and undeniably singular voice, filled with fascinating detail and metaphysical fact. The pieces within will exhilarate both admiring fans and a new generation of readers, having been “re-framed and re-hung,” with fresh editing and reordering by the author, to situate these now seminal works within her larger canon.
The Abundance reminds us that Dillard’s brand of “novelized nonfiction” pioneered the form long before it came to be widely appreciated. Intense, vivid, and fearless, her work endows the true and seemingly ordinary aspects of life—a commuter chases snowball-throwing children through neighborhood streets, a teenager memorizes Rimbaud’s poetry—with beauty and irony, inviting readers onto sweeping landscapes, to join her in exploring the complexities of time and death, with a sense of humor: on one page, an eagle falls from the sky with a weasel attached to its throat; on another, a man walks into a bar.
Reminding us of the indelible contributions of this formative figure in contemporary nonfiction, The Abundance exquisitely showcases Annie Dillard’s enigmatic, enduring genius, as Dillard herself wishes it to be marked…”
If you haven’t read Dillard, start with Holy the Firm (66 pages but it apparently took 14-months to complete the manuscript) and if you’re a Jesus-follower, track down a copy of Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church (pub. 2001). Chapter 10: The Splendour of the Ordinary focuses on Annie Dillard (while chapter 11 focuses on the similarly brilliant Frederick Buechner – Whispers from the Wings).
If you want something more academic that engages with Dillard’s work you could try the 1992 publication The Space Between: Literary Epiphany in the Work of Annie Dillard, or the much more expensive Annie Dillard and the Word Made Flesh: An Incarnational Theory of Language (pub. 2010). You might also appreciate this short reflection by Trent Gilliss titled On Annie Dillard, Marie Howe, and Finding the Poetry in Conversation (here).