Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Maytrees

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The Maytrees

A Novel

by Annie Dillard

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2007, 216 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2008, 240 pages

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Beyond the Book

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Annie Dillard has written eleven books, including the memoir of her parents, An American Childhood; the Northwest pioneer epic The Living; and the nonfiction narrative Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. A gregarious recluse, she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

She was born in April 1945 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Best known for her narrative nonfiction, she has also published poetry, essays, literary criticism, autobiography and fiction. She is married to the historical biography Robert D Richardson Jr (award-winning and bestselling author of biographies on luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and William James).

Dillard's childhood is described in detail in her 1987 memoir, An American Childhood. She is the oldest of three daughters of affluent and nonconformist parents who encouraged humor, exploration and creativity. She studied literature and creative writing at Hollins College in Virginia, and married her writing teacher, the poet R.H. Dillard, who "taught her everything she knows" about writing.

She graduated with a Masters in English in 1968. After a near-fatal bout of pneumonia in 1971 she spent four seasons living near Tinker Creek in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke, Virginia, where she wrote Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (perhaps inspired my Thoreau's Walden, which was her thesis topic).

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. After which she wrote a number of narrative essays in a similar style before writing her first novel, The Living (1992), which grew out of a story she wrote fifteen years before. Published fifteen years after The Living, The Maytrees is her second novel.

"The sensation of writing a book is the sensation of spinning, blinded by love and daring. It is the sensation of a stunt pilot's turning barrel rolls, or an inchworm's blind rearing from a stem in search of a route. At its worst, it feels like alligator wrestling, at the level of the sentence." - From Write Till You Drop by Annie Dillard, published in the NY Times.

Interesting Links:
Articles by and about Annie Dillard in the New York Times, including a 1992 article about The Living.) Requires free registration.

This article was originally published in August 2007, and has been updated for the June 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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