Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx

Past Event: Wednesday, October 7, 2009

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

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Literary Arts

Sponsored by Stoel Rives, LLP.

As Annie Proulx puts it: “Life is not really happy for most people.” In as much as the beauty of the land and landscape do not escape her, neither do the realities of rural life she portrayed first in the Northeast and then in the West.

Her stories—rugged, often violent, and never sentimental—may prove to be pivotal cultural markers. Ron Carlson, a Westerner, wrote in the New York Times Sunday Book Review that she “has nicely disrupted the mythology of the Old West.” Elaine Showalter, in A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers, writes “Proulx’s understanding of the West and the Western genre is radically antiheroic…her stories demythologize this world, too, such as in one of her unforgettable rodeo stories, “The Mud Below.” As she writes in her acknowledgements, ‘the elements of unreality, the fantastic and improbable, color all of these stories, as they color real life. In Wyoming not the least fantastic situation is the determination to make a living ranching in this tough and unforgiving place.’”

Proulx’s first collection of short stories was published in 1988 when she was 53. She published several subsequent books set in Vermont prior to her novel The Shipping News (1993), winner of the Pulitzer Prize, which took place in the declining fishing community of Newfoundland. With that book, Proulx’s scope of landscape and culture came into focus, bringing to international attention the lives of people in a place where their livelihood, their culture, and their community were at risk. In 1994, Proulx moved to the big sky and open sightlines of Wyoming. Three collections of short stories and a novel followed, all set in the West. She often uses memoirs and journals of people in the area as the basis of stories, and she is a consummate collector of overheard conversation. Joyce Carol Oates noted in the New York Review of Books that Proulx assimilates place much as her Western literary counterpart Cormac McCarthy does: “as a landscape both historical and symbolic.”

When she was a girl, Proulx’s mother, an artist, taught her to paint before she could read. Looking at landscapes for long periods taught her to notice detail, and everywhere she has lived—from Maine to Vermont, Montreal, Newfoundland, Texas, and Wyoming—she has focused her eye on setting. “Place comes first; what is this place, what makes it this way, what is the geology, what is the prevailing climate, what’s the weather like, how do people make a living, what grows here, what animals are here. All of this stuff I do first, and then the stories just are there because the place dictates what happens.”

Excerpt from “The Great Divide,” Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 (2008)
Hi was nine years older than Helen. In the war he had suffered a whiff of gas and a wound in his right thigh. He came home with a limp, brusquely unwilling to farm with his father and brothers. The family did not know what to make of him, and his father sang in a sarcastic voice the new song that every farmer knew—“How you gonna keep em down on the farm, after they seen Paree?”

But of course he had not gone to Paris.

“I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction,” he said, as though his refusal to visit the City of Light somehow punished the French, whom he called “the Froggies,” in a jocular, insulting tone. Hi’s life now seemed to him a valuable gift that must not be wasted when so many had died in French mud for reasons he still did not understand. He knew he had to get away from his family, from Tabletop with its relentless corn and quivering horizon. He wanted a frontier, though it seemed to him that the frontiers had all disappeared in his grandfather’s time. He was, without knowing it, searching for a purpose that his spared body might carry out. Helen, nineteen years old and with long wood-brown hair, came into view as an island to the shipwrecked. They would make their own frontier.

Selected Work
Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 (2008)
Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 (2004)
That Old Ace in the Hole (2002)
Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999)
Accordion Crimes (1996)
The Shipping News (1993)
Postcards (1992)
Heart Songs and Other Stories (1988)

Books That Changed My Life, PEN World Voices at the New York Public Library, May 4, 2008
The Scripting News, by Jessica Winter, The Village Voice, November 22, 2005
Interview on the BBC World Service, World Book Club, September 30, 2008

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Seneca Street exit and move into the left lane. Turn left onto First Avenue and proceed one block. Take the next right (at the Hammering Man sculpture) onto University Street. Continue up the hill two blocks to Third Avenue. Turn left onto Third Avenue. Continue to the next block and turn left onto Union Street. Make the next left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Southbound Highway 99 (Aurora Avenue)
    Take the Denny Way/Downtown exit. Keep right and cross over Denny Way onto Wall Street. Proceed approximately five blocks and turn left onto Second Avenue. Continue south on Second Avenue approximately eight blocks. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Bus
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by bus and light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


SAL is for everyone. We want all audience members to be able to experience our lectures and readings regardless of accessibility concerns. Accessibility services at our venues are provided at no cost to ticket holders. If you find you need to sit closer to the stage to accommodate your needs but find the cost of a Patron ticket prohibitive, then please contact us—we will seat you where you need to be, regardless of cost.

Open Captioning occurs at every event that takes place at Benaroya Hall. It is also always available upon request for all events in our other halls, with a two-week minimum notice. To make a request for Open Captioning services, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

Assisted Listening Devices, including Hearing Loop Assisted Listening Systems, are available at all of our venues, with the exception of Broadway Performance Hall. If you would like more information, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

ASL-Interpretated Events are always available upon request, with a two-week minimum notice. To make a request for ASL interpretation, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

Wheelchair Accessible Ticketing is available in all sections at our venues, and and our venues are fully accessible to ticket holders with physical mobility concerns. If you would like more information, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10.

For any further questions or requests, or to offer Seattle Arts & Lectures feedback on how we can be more accessible and inclusive, please reach out to our Patron Services Manager at or 206.621.2230×10.