From P-Town… House Hunting with Annie Proulx

1. Annie Proulx at the Schnitz. 2. Wine line is short, but the show starts in five minutes. 3. Alan and Leslie in the good seats. Alan hopes the good seats translate into deep understanding. Leslie loves the almost front-row view of some of the best and most talented literary artists in the country.

Annie Proulx kicked off the 2011–12 Portland Arts & Lectures season at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall by telling the audience that every time she comes to Portland, she wonders what it would be like to live here. She admitted to the expensive and dangerous habit of falling in love with places.

Proulx has bought houses and written stories set in Texas, Wyoming and Newfoundland. If she added Portland to the list, we’d know ourselves and our city a little more. Once Proulx understands something of a place, she says the story drops out of knowing the details. Other than talking to someone about accordion repair a number of years ago, she does not include personal interviews as part of her extensive research.

1. Jessica saw Ruth Reichl last year and decided to become a patron subscriber this year. 2. Lewis & Clark students, Zach and Conrad, got free tickets from their professor, Pauls Toutonghi, who also attended the event.

Her matter-of-fact statement about her editor of twelve years not making many changes garnered audience applause. When asked about her next novel, she admitted to being only a quarter-way through because the Canton trade system is quite complicated.

If you are interested in the finer points of Chestnut blight, Elm disease, Butternut disease, Kauri trees, the importance of opossum fur to aboriginals in Australia or ecosystem faux pas animal introductions in New Zealand, you missed your chance to get it all in an hour and a half. Proulx has a personal research library that she considers a bit better than the one at University of Wyoming, especially within certain areas of interest to her.

1. Proulx at the after-party with Andrew Proctor, Executive Director of Literary Arts. 2. Sarah and Daniel debating the personal nature of Proulx sharing her research.

When asked about her influences to create the Brokeback Mountain characters, she snapped out of research mode and became quite thoughtful, possibly careful, while admitting to being a person who does not look back and analyze their own writing. She has realized that lots of her stories have been contrary with a touch of the corrective or, put another way, not written from a disinterested point-of-view, perhaps. Her modulated emotion when discussing the Laramie Project demonstrated her immense restraint in areas where research yields opinions rather than facts. When she went to college, Proulx considered history to be a pretty Jell-O-like material that kept evolving, so she turned to fiction writing.

1. Kim Lofgren and Rachel Selin from The Dojo Agency, a co-sponsor of the lecture series, with Mel Wells, Literary Art’s Writers in the Schools Assistant. Lofgren designed the new look and feel of Literary Arts. Selin was happy to do something a little higher-end with smart, interesting and fun people in a relaxed town. 2. Roberta, Jeri, Ivan, Linda and Matt know how to class it up for the after-party. Matt initially claimed to be Einstein’s cousin, then admitted to only seeing Einstein walk across the Princeton campus before my parents were born.

The most important thing Proulx wants you to know about her is that she has always been a reader. From first light till midnight, she reads from a stack of 8–10 books, finishing the ones that hold her attention and leaving the ones that don’t. Her favorite books with a strong sense of place include Little Infamies by Panos Karnezis and work from Peter Matthiessen, whom Proulx considers one of our great place writers.

Proulx can be rather specific when discussing research or writing process. The Q&A session was an opportunity to unearth her more personal thoughts, which may not have been analyzed to her exacting standards. This space between knowing and not knowing is valuable real estate, but none of us would buy a house there.


— Judith Ossello currently lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Find her here.

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