Annie Proulx doesn't do small talk. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Brokeback Mountain and The Shipping News was in Leitrim at the weekend and seemed happy that most people did not give her a second glance.
Some of those who did shyly greet the sprightly 81-year-old with a delighted “you’re Annie Proulx”, were rewarded with a quizzical “who are you?”
The organisers of the Iron Mountain Literature Festival, a successor to the annual John McGahern seminar which ran until 2015, had thought of her first when deciding on an event which would celebrate the importance of home, identity and place in literature.
"We asked and she said 'yes'," said a delighted Philip Delamere, arts officer with Leitrim County Council. Proulx's admiration for the late Sligo-based writer Dermot Healy may have been the clincher.
‘Tremendous and rare’
“I have not met anyone who knew Dermot, who did not know that they were in the presence of someone tremendous and rare,”Proulx told a capacity crowd in the
where she read from her latest novel
Describing Healy as one of the great writers of the past century, she told the gathering, which included locally based writers Kevin Barry, Michael Harding and Brian Leyden, “You are so so lucky to have had this man writing about this place.”
She saw quite a bit of the place on Saturday when she, along with about 50 others, squeezed into Rynn’s traditional shop and pub in Ballinaglera, to listen to archaeologist Sam Moore talk about the folklore and landscape of the Iron Mountain. Later they visited a holy well and sweat house at the foot of the mountain .
When festival director Vincent Woods told her about proposals to frack in the region, Proulx was appalled. “What in the world is going though people’s heads?” she later mused. “I guess it is in your hands,” she told those who came to hear her discuss the challenges of building a home with architect Dominic Stevens who famously managed to do that on a €25,000 budget.
“This is a very very beautiful place,” said Proulx. “It would be a shame if it ended up with gas wells all over, and lots of big machinery lumbering past, and dust and noise – and everything abandoned at the end but not cleaned up . So beware.”
Proulx may be a fan of Dermot Healy but she was not as generous about fellow US writer John Steinbeck . The author of The Grapes of Wrath had located the Joad family without "ever bothering" to visit that part of Oklahoma, she said .
“People in Oklahoma to this day absolutely laugh because he picked the lush green part that never had any problems with drought – so do your homework,” she urged writers in the audience.
Her reward for her presence and patience in signing hundreds of books was a signed first edition of McGahern's By the Lake and a bottle of Drumshanbo-distilled Gunpowder Gin.