Annie Proulx and Susan Wicks

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Cake and roses this week and with them, we read the work of two great contemporary women writers – Annie Proulx and Susan Wicks.

Annie Proulx has written eight books, including the novels The Shipping News and Accordian Crimes. She has won the Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and a PEN/Faulkner award. Her story “Brokeback Mountain,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film. She has worked as a journalist and is an early environmentalist. Her work is deeply rooted in landscape: www.theguardian.com/books/2004

She lived in Wyoming for many years but is now based in Seattle.

We looked at “The Blood Bay”  which also first appeared in The New Yorker magazine on December 28 1998 and was collected in Close Range: Wyoming Stories, the book of short stories published in 1999 which also features “Brokeback Mountain”. Close Range is available from Simon and Schuster.

Susan Wicks has written six collections of poetry, two novels (one, The Key, was serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour), a memoir, Driving My Father (Faber, 1995 and Basic Books, 1996), a collection of stories, Roll Up for the Arabian Derby (bluechrome, 2009) and a novel-in-stories, A Place to Stop, (Salt).

Her first poetry collection, Singing Underwater (Faber, 1992) won the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize and was shortlisted for the Forward First Collection Prize, as well as being a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Her second, Open Diagnosis (Faber, 1994) was one of the Poetry Society’s ‘New Generation Poets’ titles. Her third, The Clever Daughter (Faber, 1997), was a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for T.S. Eliot and Forward Prizes.

We read ‘Pistachios’ the first poem in her most recent collection, House of Tongues (Bloodaxe, 2011), which is also a PBS Recommendation.

Links to work by Proulx and Wicks, online interviews and biographical information are on the Texts page of this blog. 

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James Joyce and Ted Hughes

Tuesday 20 January 2015

James Joyce published his short story collection, Dubliners, in 1914. It contains 15 stories, including ‘Araby’, the one we looked at today. Joyce’s influence on contemporary writers is profound. His work has generated extensive scholarship but he never won a major literary prize.

Joyce was born in Dublin but lived most of his life in the European cities of Trieste, Paris and Zurich. ‘Araby’ is available on Project Gutenberg in the collection, Dubliners. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2814/2814-h/2814-h.htm

Ted Hughes was born on August 17 1930 and died October 28 1998. The poem we looked at today, ‘Horses’, comes from his first manuscript, published as The Hawk in the Rain by Faber in 1957. He won many prizes for his work and was UK Poet Laureate from 1984 until he died.

Hughes poetry is known for its often violent imagery, drawn from the natural world. ‘Horses’ is available to read here: www.ouce.ox.ac.uk

Nadine Gordimer and Edna St Vincent Millay

Nadine Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. Born in 1923, she died in 2014 with a justifiably world-wide reputation for her fiction and her commitment to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, where she lived. She is one of South Africa’s most famous writers but she also spent many years living in the UK.

Her story, A Present for a Good Girl was originally published by Harper’s magazine in the United States in 1952. It tells the story of a mother who wants to buy a handbag for her daughter, attempting to pay for it in installments. The story engages sympathy for all the major characters at different points. It explores class, poverty, age and addiction.

Edna St Vincent Millay was one of the most successful poets in the United States. She was the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Born in 1892, she died in 1950 from a heart attack. She was a pacifist and was arrested in a protest about the execution of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti.

Her popularity waned in the 1960s but much of her poetry is ahead of its time and still resonates strongly with contemporary readers. Her poem, ‘The Fitting’, is ostensibly about a woman having a dress altered but its imagery is erotic and sensual. It is one of a kind.