Monday, April 30, 2007

Happy Birthday to Annie Dillard

One of America's most important writers is having a birthday today. Annie Dillard was born on April 30, 1945. She has published 11 books,* including The Maytrees, a new novel forthcoming in June from HarperCollins. She is married to the biographer Robert D. Richardson.

My favorite of her books is The Writing Life (HarperPerennial, 1989) which I have often used as a text in my writing classes. Rather than tell you why I consider this a holy book for writers, let me just give you a bit of what Dillard has to say:

"One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill in from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: 'Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.' "

-from The Writing Life, pp. 78-79


*By my non-scientific count, and not including multi-book "readers" and anthologies.