20 women writing about the outdoors

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Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Cover image via Harper Perennial)

18. Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard has been a successful author for quite some time now, with substantial work in both fiction and nonfiction. But it’s one of her earlier works that gained her the recognition to power the rest of her career. Oh, and it also won her a Pulitzer Prize.

Dillard grew up fairly comfortable as the daughter of an oil executive. While living as a child in Pittsburgh, she established a deep and abiding love of books. This included The Field Book of Ponds and Streams by ecologist Ann Haven Morgan, which helped to encourage Dillard’s love of the natural world.

Later, as a graduate student, Dillard wrote her master’s thesis on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Thoreau had a clear influence on her work, especially once Dillard started to think about publishing her journals in the early 1970s. She had begun to do so in 1970, after already spending much of her time writing poetry near Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

In 1971, Dillard dealt with a debilitating case of pneumonia. Once she recovered, Dillard began to think about turning her nature-focused journals into a full-length book. Her entries served as the basis for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, published in 1974.

Pilgrim is guided by an unnamed narrator, a thoughtful and observant individual who reflects upon the changing seasons around the eponymous Tinker Creek. The narrator also takes note of all the animals and plants in the area through monologues and reflective passages. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is nonfiction, but Dillard was unafraid to delve into the use of poetic devices such as metaphor to build a creative work.