Thursday, January 05, 2006

Annie Proulx Interview on Brokeback Mountain

I've found a couple more interesting Annie Proulx links, prompted by the release of the film "Brokeback Mountain," based on her short story of the same name. From, 12/17/05-12/19/05, Annie Proulx tells the story behind "Brokeback Mountain." This is an Associated Press interview, and appears in a number of publications. It covers much the same ground as Planet Jackson Hole's interview with Annie Proulx December 7, 2005. Here are a couple of quotes to whet your appetite.

Planet Jackson Hole: How did you come to write "Brokeback Mountain"? What inspired the story?

Annie Proulx: "Brokeback Mountain" was/is one of a number of stories examining rural Western social situations. I was trained as an historian (French Annales school), and most of my writing is focused on rural North American hinterlands. The story was not "inspired," but the result of years of subliminal observation and thought, eventually brought to the point of writing. As I remarked in a 1999 interview with The Missouri Review, Place and history are central to the fiction I write, both in the broad, general sense and in detailed particulars. Rural North America, regional cultures, the images of an ideal and seemingly attainable world the characters cherish in their long views despite the rigid and difficult circumstances of their place and time interest me and are what I write about. I watch for the historical skew between what people have hoped for and who they thought they were and what befell them.


PJH: I think it's clear to anyone who reads "Brokeback Mountain" that above all it's a wrenching, starcrossed love story. It is about two cowboys, but it seems inaccurate to call it gay literature. How do you feel about the film being assailed as gay agitprop emerging from liberal Hollywood? Did you ever intend for the story to be controversial?

AP: Excuse me, but it is NOT a story about "two cowboys." It is a story about two inarticulate, confused Wyoming ranch kids in 1963 who have left home and who find themselves in a personal sexual situation they did not expect, understand nor can manage. The only work they find is herding sheep for a summer ­ some cowboys! Yet both are beguiled by the cowboy myth, as are most people who live in the state, and Ennis tries to be one but never gets beyond ranch hand work; Jack settles on rodeo as an expression of the Western ideal. It more or less works for him until he becomes a tractor salesman. Their relationship endures for 20 years, never resolved, never faced up to, always haunted by fear and confusion. How different readers take the story is a reflection of their own personal values, attitudes, hang-ups. It is my feeling that a story is not finished until it is read, and that the reader finishes it through his or her life experience, prejudices, world view and thoughts. Far from being "liberal," Hollywood was afraid of the script as were many actors and agents. Of course I knew the story would be seen as controversial. I doubted it would even be published, and was pleased when The New Yorker very quickly accepted it. In the years since the story was published in 1997 I have received many letters from gay and straight men, not a few Wyoming-born. Some said, "You told my story," some said "That is why I left Wyoming," and a number, from fathers, said "Now I understand the hell my son went through." I still get these heart breaking letters.


PJH: I've read you're a lover of coffee shops and yard sales ­ places where you can listen in on conversations, picking up on local dialects, aphorisms, story ideas. With your increasing notoriety, is it hard for you to stay anonymous in Wyoming so that you can move about unobtrusively as a writer?

AP: I don't love coffee shops, but I used to drive across the North American continent once a year, usually by back roads, and stopped at many cafes along the way where I did sometimes hear interesting things. One can hear equally interesting conversations in line at the grocery store and post office. Yard sales have been good places to find old books for me, especially valuable as so many small secondhand bookshops are disappearing. No, it is not difficult to move around Wyoming anonymously. Women of a certain age are invisible. And most Wyoming people don't give a damn whether you write novels or knit mittens.

No comments: