Last week Joanna and I met Annie Proulx during her stay in Brussels as a Passa Porta resident writer. I don’t know if these resident writer programs exist in other parts of the world, but they’re a great idea. Passa Porta is a literary center that includes a multi-language bookshop, a workshop and a space other literary organisations can use for their projects.
They also have an apartment available to foreign writers who are in the city researching (or looking for inspiration in) Flemish and Belgian culture and literature. Notable authors who’ve passed by include Jonathan Coe and Michael Cunningham.
Annie Proulx is now in residence, while doing research for her ambitious upcoming book. It’ll be a century-spanning novel about de-forestation and it include a local character, a sailor in the (sorry if I got that wrong!) Dutch East Indies Company. Most of the talk focused on Bird Cloud though, a memoir of the building of her isolated and oh-so-lovely Wyoming (the “emptiest State“) house.
She spoke about her love of geology and how the land influences people and culture, the challenges of writing short-stories (“the hardest literary form“) and the upcoming Brokeback Mountain opera (!), but my favorite parts were about her experiences as a reader and how that influenced her writing:
I don’t think of myself as a writer, I think of myself as a reader.
When you read a lot, you get a feeling for what works and what fits. It’s good to read good stuff!
You can go over a sentence 200 times until it feels right. Understanding where to stop is a matter of experience, and that comes from reading.
And here’s a photo of me and my bump getting a copy of Bad Dirt signed.