Annie Dillard

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Annie Dillard was a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine from 1973 to 1985, with a brief hiatus in 1982.

Dillard’s first contribution to Harper’s was sent to the editors as an unsolicited manuscript. “Monster in a Mason Jar: The lethal liturgy of the praying mantis” (August 1973) was the first of four excerpts from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) to appear in the magazine. The book was published by Harper’s Magazine Press in 1974, when Dillard was twenty-nine, and won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in the same year. “Pilgrim is really a book of theology,” Dillard told an editor at the magazine in 1974. “It’s the result of one year’s walking around and thinking about what kind of god gave us this kind of world. I decided that it must have been a very carefree, exuberant one, saying ‘Here, have a tulip! Have a beetle! Have another beetle!’”

Dillard’s first book was the poetry collection Tickets for a Prayer Wheel (1974). Among her nonfiction works are Living by Fiction (1982); Teaching a Stone to Talk (1982); An American Childhood (1987), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and For the Time Being (1999), an excerpt of which appeared in the January 1988 issue of the magazine. Dillard also wrote two novels: The Living (1992), excerpts of which were published in the November 1978 and August 1991 issues, and The Maytrees (2007), which was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Dillard taught at Wesleyan University from 1979 to 2000. She serves on the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and paints.

Fiction — From the November 2003 issue

The two of them

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Readings — From the June 2002 issue

This is the life

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Article — From the January 1998 issue

The wreck of time

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Taking our century’s measure

Readings — From the August 1995 issue

Signals at sea

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Romancing Kano·

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I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:

The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
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Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

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“It is disappointing that parts of Purity read as though Franzen urgently wanted to telegraph a message to anyone who would defend his fiction from charges of chauvinism: ‘No, you’ve got me wrong. I really am sexist.’”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
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“In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.”
Photograph © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images
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Weed Whackers·

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“Defining 'native' and 'invasive' in an ever-shifting natural world poses some problems. The camel, after all, is native to North America, though it went extinct here 8,000 years ago, while the sacrosanct redwood tree is invasive, having snuck in at some point in the past 65 million years.”
Photograph by Chad Ress
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The Neoliberal Arts·

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“College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.”
Artwork by Julie Cockburn

Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:

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