I’m probably going to catch a lot of flack for this post, but here goes anyway: I love Annie Proulx. I think she’s one of the best American novelists and short-story writers this country has produced in the past quarter-century. I particularly enjoyed her book “That Old Ace in the Hole” because it’s set in my beloved southern plains of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.
Great, but what does this have to do with hunting or fishing? Interesting story, that.
You see, Annie Proulx is also famous for writing a little short story called….(insert dramatic pause here)…”Brokeback Mountain,” that by-now-infamous tale of two lonely cowboys, one tent, a bunch of sheep, and a lot of free time.
Now to say that “Brokeback Mountain” was a controversial film is something of an understatement. But what’s really interesting to me is that prior to hitting the publishing big-time, Annie Proulx was … (insert additional dramatic pause here) … a hunting and fishing writer!
That’s right. Strange factoid of the day: the gal who penned “Brokeback Mountain” got her start writing stories for Gray’s Sporting Journal.
From an old interview in The Missouri Review.
I started writing nonfiction, mostly magazine journalism and how-to books, for income. At the same time I began to write short fiction, mostly stories about hunting and fishing and rural life in northern New England, subjects that interested me intensely at the time. Almost all of these stories were published in Gray’s Sporting Journal, then a new and strikingly beautiful quarterly concerned with the outdoor world in the same way Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories are about the outdoor world—the primary weight on literature, not sport. There was an intense camaraderie and shared literary excitement among the writers whose fiction appeared in Gray’s, something I have never encountered since. It may have been that the struggles to get paid by Gray’s created a bond of shared adversity among the writers; it may have been the genuine pleasure in being part of this unusual publication that valued serious outdoor writing in contrast to the hook-and-bullet mags.
Now I must quibble a bit with her assertion that only Gray’s valued serious outdoor writing. Gray’s was founded in 1975, and while I was still wearing Tuffskins and chasing lizards back then, in 1975 the big three sporting mags (and especially F&S, in my opinion) were still very much at the forefront of serious, literary outdoor writing. Still, I think it’s fascinating that the author behind the most culturally polarizing film of the past few years credits her outdoors writing background as the genesis of her later mainstream success.