Annie Dillard (born April 30, 1945) is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut.
Annie Dillard was the oldest of three daughters in her family. Early childhood details can be drawn from Annie Dillard's autobiography, An American Childhood (1987), about growing up in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh. It starts in 1950 when she was five. Like Russell Baker's Growing Up, Dillard's memoir An American Childhood focuses on her parents and some of her intellectual enthusiasms rather than on herself. She grew up in Pittsburgh in the fifties in "a house full of comedians." She describes her mother as an energetic non-conformist. Her father taught her many useful subjects such as plumbing, economics, and the intricacies of the novel On The Road. She describes in An American Childhood reading a wide variety of subjects including: geology, natural history, entomology, epidemiology, and poetry, among others. Influential books from her youth were: The Natural Way to Draw and Field Book of Ponds and Streams. Her days were filled with exploring, piano and dance classes, rock and bug collecting, drawing, and reading books from the public library including natural history and military history, such as World War II.
As a child, Dillard attended the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, though her parents did not attend. She spent four summers at the First Presbyterian Church (FPC) Camp in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. As an adolescent she quit attending church because of "hypocrisy." When she told her minister of her decision, she was given four volumes of C. S. Lewis's broadcast talks, from which she appreciated that author's philosophy on suffering, but elsewhere found the topic inadequately addressed.
She attended Pittsburgh Public Schools until fifth grade, and then The Ellis School until college.
Dillard attended Hollins College (now Hollins University), in Roanoke, Virginia, where she studied literature and creative writing. She married her writing teacher, the poet R. H. W. Dillard, ten years her senior. Of her college experience, Dillard stated: "In college I learned how to learn from other people. As far as I was concerned, writing in college didn’t consist of what little Annie had to say, but what Wallace Stevens had to say. I didn’t come to college to think my own thoughts, I came to learn what had been thought." In 1968 she earned an MA in English. Her thesis on Henry David Thoreau showed how Walden Pond functioned as "the central image and focal point for Thoreau's narrative movement between heaven and earth." Dillard spent the first few years after graduation oil painting, writing, and keeping a journal. Several of her poems and short stories were published, and during this time she also worked for Johnson's Anti-Poverty Program.
Dillard's works have been compared to those by Virginia Woolf, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, and John Donne. She cites Henry James, Thomas Hardy, and Ernest Hemingway as a few of her all-time favorite authors.
Dillard's books have been translated into at least 10 languages. Her 1975 Pulitzer-winning book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, made Random House's survey of the century's 100 best nonfiction books. The LA Times' survey of the century's 100 best Western novels includes The Living. The century's 100 best spiritual books (ed. Philip Zaleski) also includes Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. The 100 best essays (ed. Joyce Carol Oates) includes "Total Eclipse," from Teaching a Stone to Talk. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, in 1999, and For the Time Being, in 2002, both won the Maurice-Edgar Coindreau Prize for Best Translation in English, both translated by Sabine Porte.
In 2000, Dillard's For the Time Being received the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay.
To celebrate its tricentennial, Boston commissioned Sir Michael Tippett to compose a symphony. He based part of its text on Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. In 2005, artist Jenny Holzer used all of An American Childhood to stream, letter by letter, vertically, in lights, at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, as an installation.