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Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard is an American writer best known for her narrative nonfiction books Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) and An American Childhood (1987). Her writing style explores nature, life, and God through detailed descriptions of real events in her life and metaphors that she uses to examine deeper themes. Now out of the public eye, Dillard has a substantial repertoire that ultimately earned her the National Humanities Medal in 2014, amongst other honorable awards.

Annie Dillard: Biography

Annie Dillard's biography begins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 30, 1945. Her childhood was comfortable and generally happy. Her parents were both free-spirited; her father even once resigned from his job to sail downriver toward New Orleans. Dillard showed interest in nature and reading from a young age, and she spent many hours of her youth drawing things she observed outside and writing poetry. Dillard also went to a Presbyterian church as a child, where she showed an early curiosity about religious topics. These interests in nature and religion would become prevalent themes throughout her written works.

Annie Dillard attended public school in Pittsburgh until the fifth grade and then transferred to a college prep school called The Ellis School. As a teenager, Annie Dillard had a rebellious streak. Unhappy with the social restraints she felt growing up in the 50s and 60s, she began to take part in activities her parents disapproved of. These behaviors included smoking, which led to her being suspended briefly from school, and dating boys that her parents disliked. Because of her family's concerns about her behavior, Dillard ended up going to the strict private Hollins College in Virginia.

Annie Dillard, the Pittsburgh skyline and bridges over a river, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Dillard's interests in nature and writing first appeared during her childhood in Pittsburgh.

Dillard studied English at Hollins College and also wrote for the school’s student newspaper. In 1965, she married Richard Dillard — her creative writing professor. Dillard earned her bachelor’s degree in 1967, and her master’s in 1968, both in English.

After graduating, Annie Dillard focused on her writing as well as painting. She published her first book, Tickets for a Prayer, in 1974. Later that same year, she released Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a narrative nonfiction book that launched her into literary fame. In 1975, she became a resident scholar at Western Washington University; she held this position until 1978. Also, in 1975 she and Richard Dillard amicably divorced. Annie Dillard found that these changes helped her to get away from some of the publicity that had come with the success of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

At Western Washington University, Dillard both taught and wrote. She met and fell in love with an anthropology professor named Gary Clevidence; they married in 1976 and would have one child together. While living in Washington state, Dillard wrote Holy the Firm (1977) as well as a short story that would later evolve into The Living (1992).

In 1979, Annie Dillard took a position in Connecticut, serving on Wesleyan University’s faculty and as a writer-in-residence; she held this job until 1998. Dillard and Clevidence divorced in 1988. That same year, she married fellow award-winning writer Robert D. Richardson, to whom she stayed married until his death in 2020.

In the 1980s, Dillard wrote a slew of nonfiction essays and narratives, such as Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982), Encounters with Chinese Writers (1984), An American Childhood (1987), and The Writing Life (1989). Her final three publications were a poetry collection titled Mornings Like This (1995), a nonfiction narrative titled For the Time Being (1999), and the novel The Maytrees (2007).

Annie Dillard received the National Humanities Medal in 2014 from former President Barack Obama. Since then, she has released little writing and has kept mostly to herself, no longer making public appearances.

Annie Dillard: Writing Style

Annie Dillard's writing style overall tends to be highly descriptive and includes many metaphors.

Metaphor: a kind of figurative language that compares two unlike things in order to highlight similarities between them.

She tends to focus on themes of nature and how humans relate to it. Additionally, her works can be considered works of green literature.

Green literature: works that examine nature, ecological systems, or sustainability through literature.

Her writing tends to include many detailed descriptions of natural places and phenomena, as well as scientific facts about the natural world. In addition to this, Dillard often discusses themes of how nature relates to the human experience as well as to God and spirituality. Her writing shows respect and love for nature, thus making it green literature.

Annie Dillard's works are also mostly narrative nonfiction, though she has also written two novels.

Narrative nonfiction: a story using facts that uses creative techniques.

In works such as An American Childhood (1987) and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), Dillard relays the real-life events of her life. However, she incorporates facts within the framework of a creative narrative or novel. This marriage of factual information and creative storytelling makes Annie Dillard's works examples of narrative nonfiction.

Other examples of famous works of Narrative Nonfiction include the following:

  • Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night (1968)
  • Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1965)
  • Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air (1997)
  • Rachel DeLoache William's My Friend Anna (2019)
  • Michael Pollan’s This Is Your Mind On Plants (2021)

Annie Dillard: Books

Annie Dillard has published books in several genres. While most of her published works are either narrative nonfiction or essay collections, she has also written poetry and two novels.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is Dillard’s most successful book and what she is still best remembered for. This narrative nonfiction is focused on the human experience of living as well as on nature and how the two interact. Her musings are based on her collected experiences and thoughts while walking outdoors near her home in Virginia. The stories span the length of a year and look at the various seasons and how nature changes. By observing natural phenomena such as migrations and floods, Dillard takes a closer look at her own life experiences.

Annie Dillard, an aerial view of Roanoke Virginia, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Dillard was inspired by her walks in nature while she lived near Roanoke, Virginia.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, launching Dillard into literary fame.

An American Childhood (1987)

This is a narrative nonfiction memoir recounting Annie Dillard’s early memories. In it, she chronicles her adolescence while growing up in Pittsburgh. She explores her thoughts and experiences with the natural world, science, family, and the experience of growing into a fully conscious person. Because it was written many years after her youth, she examines how the memories of her experiences have changed.

Other Books by Annie Dillard

Other popular books by Annie Dillard include the following:

  • Tickets for a Prayer Wheel (1974): A poetry collection expressing Dillard’s search for her spirituality.

  • Holy The Firm (1977): A nonfiction narrative that delves into nature, God, and life.

  • The Writing Life (1989): A work of nonfiction depicting the life of a writer as well as the experience of the act of writing.

  • The Living (1992): A historical fiction novel about the interactions of European settlers and Lummi Native Americans in Washington state.

  • Mornings Like This: Found Poems (1996): A collection of ironic poems made from sentences found in various books and stitched together.

  • For the Time Being (1999): A nonfiction narrative that examines the human condition.

  • The Maytrees (2007): A novel about the lives of a married couple in Massachusetts.

Annie Dillard: Essays

In addition to her other works, Dillard has published various essay collections. As is typical of her writing, these essays tend to focus on nature, spirituality, and life.

Teaching a Stone To Talk (1982)

As with many of Annie Dillard's works, this essay collection takes a close look at nature, God, and life. The essays in this book address various natural places and phenomena that Dillard then uses to explore questions about memory, time, suffering, and other human experiences.

Other Essays by Annie Dillard

Additionally, Annie Dillard has written and published several other essays:

  • Living By Fiction (1982): Essays discussing the importance of fiction and how we can learn from it.
  • Encounters with Chinese Writers (1984): Short essays describing a cultural exchange between Chinese and American writers that Dillard participated in.

  • The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old & New (2016): An overview of the works from her writing career with new works added as well.

Annie Dillard: Quotes

The following quote is from Dillard's nonfiction book The Writing Life. This work delves into what it means to be a writer and what the act of writing of actually like. She also addresses questions about the importance of writing and what it gives us as humans. As Dillard highlights in this quote, writing can do many things for people — including giving our lives meaning.

Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.”

(The Writing Life, Ch. 2)

Dillard recounts experiences from her childhood in An American Childhood, and one of its major themes is consciousness. She explores the difference between young children, who exist mostly physically, and older children, who have become more aware of the world and their place in it. The following quote is Dillard's description of such changes in consciousness.

Like any child, I slid into myself perfectly fitted, as a diver meets her reflection in a pool. Her fingertips enter the fingertips on the water, her wrists slide up her arms. The diver wraps herself in her reflection wholly, sealing it at the toes, and wears it as she climbs rising from the pool, and ever after.”

(An American Childhood, Prologue)

In the quote below, Annie Dillard expresses the importance of going beyond the surface of one's life. She finds more interest — and more spirituality — in not shying away from the more difficult things. This quote claims that in those “gaps,” one can find a more profound understanding of life and a deeper meaning in the world.

There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self conscious, so apparently moral...But I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous...more extravagant and bright. We are...raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.”

(Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Ch. 15)

Annie Dillard - Key takeaways

  • Annie Dillard was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 30, 1945.
  • Her writing style tends to be highly descriptive, includes metaphors, and is considered green literature.
  • Dillard has published poetry, essays, two novels, and several books of narrative nonfiction.
  • Many of Dillard's works are narrative nonfiction, telling real facts and using creative literary techniques.
  • Annie Dillard's most famous works include Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) and An American Childhood (1987.)

Frequently Asked Questions about Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard is an American writer famous for her narrative nonfiction books and essays.

American Author Annie Dillard is still alive.

Annie Dillard received the National Humanities Medal in 2014 from former President Barack Obama, and since then she has not made any public appearances. She has stayed out of the public eye and maintains a private life.

Annie Dillard's works are considered green literature because they often explore themes of nature and its importance to humans' lives. 

Annie Dillard has written two works of fiction: her novels The Living (1992) and The Maytrees (2007).

Final Annie Dillard Quiz

Question

In what year was Annie Dillard born?

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1945

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Where was Annie Dillard born?

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Answer

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Which book launched Annie Dillard into literary success?

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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974)

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Which of the following describe Annie Dillard's writing style?

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Highly descriptive

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Which of the following are common themes in Annie Dillard's writing?

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Nature

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True or false: Annie Dillard has never written fiction.

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True

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How many novels has Annie Dillard written?

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Two: The Living (1992) and The Maytrees (2007).

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True or false: Annie Dillard's works can be considered green literature.

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True

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What is narrative nonfiction? 

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Facts told as a story by using creative techniques.

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Which of the following are examples of narrative nonfiction?

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An American Childhood (1987)

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At Hollins College, Annie Dillard received both a bachelor's and master's degree in what field?

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Anthropology

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What was Annie Dillard's first published book?

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Tickets for a Prayer Wheel (1974)

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Who wrote An American Childhood

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Annie Dillard

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True or false: An American Childhood is a work of nonfiction

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True.

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Where did Dillard grow up? 

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Pittsburgh, PA

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When did Dillard grow up?

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1950s

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What kind of book is An American Childhood? 

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Memoir

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Who is Annie Doak? 

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Dillard's childhood self.

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When does Dillard first notice the difference between her imagination and reality? 

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After realizing the monster in her bedroom were really just shadows from passing cars.

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What kind of family is Dillard born into? 

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Upperclass.

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What specific wars does Dillard study? 

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French and Indian War.

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Where is Dillard heading at the end of the novel? 

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Hollins College in Virginia

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Who is Amy Doak? 

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Dillard's younger sister.

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What about Oma and Frank Doak influences how Dillard sees class? 

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They are part of the social elite in Pittsburgh and Annie feels distanced from their extravagance. 

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What does Dillard call readers to do? 

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Consciously seek awareness

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What does Dillard discover about her past selves?

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They have all led her to where she is now.

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What are some of the major themes of the memoir? 

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Identity.

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