"Cruelty is a mystery, and a waste of pain. But if we describe a world to compass these things, a world that is a long, brute game, then we bump against another mystery: the inrush of power and light, the canary that sings on the skull. Unless all ages and races of men have been deluded by the same mass hypnotist (who?), there seems to be such a power as beauty, a grace wholly gratuitous. About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star.
The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped. His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air. Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass. I had just rounded a corner when his insouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree in the forest. The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there."
-- Annie Dillard, writing rather than speaking in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Annie Dillard is a writer of nonfiction, novels, and poems. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her first book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in 1975. While literary acclaim beckoned, Dillard has remained largely out of the public eye. She moved about the country for awhile, though she has returned to a cabin in rural Virginia. And she's continued to write. The Maytrees is her novel set in post-war Massachusetts. An American Childhood is her account of growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. The Living is a about the last decades of the nineteenth century in the Pacific Northwest. Holy the Firm is a sort of extension of what is called Dillard's "ecotheology" grounded in the Puget Island sound she lived on in the 1980s. The Writing Life is her reflection of -- well, just that. And there are other tantalizing books as well. Dillard is a former contributing editor to Harper's Magazine and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
- Alexander Chee: "Annie Dillard and the Writing Life"
- Annie Dillard's writing for Harper's, 1973-2002
- Annie Dillard: "Write Till You Drop"
- Eudora Welty's ambivalent 1974 New York Times review of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
About the image: Drawing of Annie Dillard via DescriptedLines.