Today, Proulx, 80, is a literary titan whose novels include The Shipping News (1993), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. She may be best known for her short story “Brokeback Mountain,” which was originally published in The New Yorker in 1997 and begat an Oscar-winning film as well as an opera for which Proulx wrote the libretto.
Now based outside Seattle, Wash., Proulx was enrolled in the doctoral program in history at Sir George Williams University — where she earned her master’s degree — when the institution merged with Loyola College to become Concordia in 1974. She would return to the university in 1999 to receive an honorary doctorate.
Proulx was named one of the university’s 40 Great Concordians in 2014.
Her recently published bestselling historical novel Barkskins has been universally hailed as a masterpiece. She recently made appearances in eastern Ontario at the Kingston WritersFest and The Writers Festival in Ottawa.
Proulx reflects on her career and her time at Concordia.
Your grandfather was a French Canadian who moved to New England. Canada seems to play an important recurring role in your life, from your time at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) in Montreal to Newfoundland, the setting of The Shipping News. What is it you love and enjoy about Canada?
Annie Proulx: “My father’s father, Ovila Peter Proulx, born in St. Luc [Que.] in 1885, moved to Connecticut in New England to work in the cotton mills and became a naturalized citizen in 1910.
Yes, Canada has played ‘an important recurring role’ in my life. Canada has always felt like my real home in many ways. Impossible to explain my feelings for the country, but in part it attracts me because it feels un-ruined, because the past seems more graspable, the historic event more palpable, the frisson of knowing my ancestors were there, hacking away at the trees.
The frantic snatching at the new chance, every new area of exploitation that characterizes life in the United States these days seems not so omnipresent in Canada. Sometimes I catch the sense of a gauzy curtain of thoughtful reflection in the affairs of Canadians, which indicates to me that more observation and thinking goes on here than south of the border.
But there is also a ravelly thread of sadness which I cannot explain.”
Barkskins is being hailed as your crowning masterpiece. Why were you compelled to write it?