Pirate's Alley Faulkner SocietyWords & Music

Richard Ford

Author of the new Novel

Canada


About the Author

Richard Ford, an American novelist and short story writer, is best-known for the novels The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land, and the short story collection Rock Springs, which contains several widely anthologized stories. Born in Jackson, MS, in 1944, he is the only son of Parker Carrol Ford, a traveling salesman for Faultless Starch, a Kansas City company. When Ford was eight years old, his father had a major heart attack, and thereafter Ford spent time as much time with his grandfather, a former prizefighter and hotel owner in Little Rock, AK, as he did with his parents in Mississippi. Ford’s father died of a second heart attack in 1960.

Ford received a B.A. from Michigan State University. Having enrolled to study hotel management, he switched to English. He then taught junior high school in Flint, MI, and enlisted in the US Marines but was discharged after contracting hepatitis. At university he met Kristina Hensley, his future wife; the two married in 1968.
Despite mild dyslexia, Ford developed a serious interest in literature. He has stated in interviews that his dyslexia may, in fact, have helped him as a reader, as it forced him to approach books at a slow and thoughtful pace. Ford briefly attended law school but dropped out and entered the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, where he was awarded a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1970. Ford chose this course simply because, he confesses, “they admitted me. I remember getting the application for Iowa, and thinking they’d never have let me in. I’m sure I was right about that, too. But, typical of me, I didn’t know who was teaching at Irvine. I didn’t know it was important to know such things. I wasn’t the most curious of young men, even though I give myself credit for not letting that deter me.” As it turned out, Oakley Hall and E. L. Doctorow were teaching there, and Ford has been explicit about his debt to them. In 1971 he was selected for a three-year appointment in the University of Michigan Society of Fellows.

Ford published his first novel, A Piece of My Heart, the story of two unlikely drifters whose paths cross on an island in the Mississippi River, in 1976, and followed it with The Ultimate Good Luck in 1981. In the interim he briefly taught at Williams College and Princeton. Despite good notices the books sold little, and Ford retired from fiction writing to become a writer for New York Magazine Inside Sports. "I realized," Ford has said, "there was probably a wide gulf between what I could do and what would succeed with readers. I felt that I’d had a chance to write two novels, and neither of them had really created much stir, so maybe I should find real employment, and earn my keep." In 1982 the magazine folded and when Sports Illustrated did not hire Ford, he returned to fiction writing, creating The Sportswriter, a novel about a failed novelist turned sportswriter who undergoes an emotional crisis following the death of his son. The novel became Ford’s "breakout book", named one of Time magazine's five best books of 1986 and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Ford followed the success immediately with Rock Springs, a that includes some of his most popular stories, adding to his reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation.

Reviewers and literary critics associated the stories in Rock Springs with the aesthetic movement known as dirty realism. This term referred to a group of writers in the 1970s and 1980s that included Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff—two writers with whom Ford was closely acquainted—as well as Ann Beattie, Frederick Barthelme, and Jayne Anne Phillips, among others.  Those applying this label point to Carver's lower-middle-class subjects or the protagonists Ford portrays in Rock Springs. However, many of the characters in the "Frank Bascombe" novels, notably the protagonist himself, enjoy degrees of material affluence and cultural capital not normally associated with the "dirty realist" style.
Although his 1990 novel Wildlife, a story of a Montana golf pro turned firefighter, met with mixed reviews and middling sales, by the end of the 1980s Ford's reputation was solid. He was increasingly sought after as an editor and contributor to various projects. Ford edited the 1990 Best American Short Stories, the 1992 Granta Book of the American Short Story, and the 1998 Granta Book of the American Long Story, a designation he claimed in the introduction to prefer to the novella. More recently he has edited the 2007 New Granta Book of the American Short Story, and the Library of America's two-volume edition of the selected works of fellow Mississippi writer Eudora Welty.

In 1995, Ford’s career reached a high point with the release of Independence Day, a sequel to The Sportswriter, featuring the continued story of its protagonist, Frank Bascombe. Reviews were positive, and the novel became the first to win both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The same year, Ford was chosen as winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, for outstanding achievement in that genre. Ford’s recent works also include the story collections Women with Men and A Multitude of Sins. The Lay of the Land  continues and, according to Ford, ends the Frank Bascombe series.

Ford lived for many years on lower Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and then in the Garden District of New Orleans, LA, where his wife Kristina was the executive director of the City Planning Commission. His current permanent residence is in East Boothbay, Maine.  He took up a teaching appointment at Bowdoin College in 2005, but remained in the post for only one semester. Since 2008 Ford has been an Adjunct Professor at the Oscar Wilde Centre with the School of English at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, and teaches on the Masters program in creative writing.
Ford assumed the post of senior fiction professor at the University of Mississippi in the Fall of 2011, replacing Barry Hannah, who died in 2010.

Ford's next novel, Canada, will be published in June 2012 and in the fall of 2012 he will become the Emmanuel Roman and Barrie Sardoff Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Writing at the Columbia University School of the Arts.

Praise for Richard Ford's Work

For an interesting article on Ford which appeared this spring in the London Telegraph, go to:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/8811307/Richard-Ford-novels-were-never-a-sacred-calling.html

“One of the country’s best writers. . . . No one looks harder at contemporary American life, sees more, or expresses it with such hushed, deliberate care.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“Haunting. . . . In each of these stories . . . there is something as delicate as the atmosphere in a Henry James tale. . . . There is also the spirit of something ineffable . . . a yearning for the world to be better than we expect. Chekhov and Cheever mastered such miracles from everyday dramas. Ford is among their company.” –The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Wrenching, intense, overflowing with compassion, A Multitude Of Sinsleads us into the restless ambiguities of the heart.” –Dan Cryer, Newsday

"Encompass[es] the comedy and pathos and wit of our dislocated times. [and] reminds us how powerful short stories can be.” —Los Angeles Times

"Scorching. . . . These stories are wry, stark, and heartbreaking–and, with the quiet moral urgency at their core, make up Ford's most stinging collection to date." –Elle

"Robust. . . .This is vigorous writing, unfolding with the leisurely confidence that is the practiced craftsman's best illusion." —The Boston Globe

"Very powerful. . . . Ford has a fine sense of place, be it southern, western, or foreign." —The New York Review of Books

"Reasserts claims that in the hands of a lesser author would appear quaintly old-fashioned: that our lives have real importance, that there is such a thing as sin, that all of our actions…have consequences. It is a testament to Ford's gifts as a writer that in A Multitude of Sins this previously well-traveled ethical terrain feels shockingly new." –The New Leader

"Elegant, pristine, precise . . . these stories are indisputable proof that Ford is a contemporary master of the short story." –Esquire

"[Ford gives] a scope to private life that puts him in company with the master realists–think of Chekhov's short fiction or the best work of F. Scott Fitzgerald." –Minneapolis Star-Tribune

 


 


Faulkner Society events are made possible in part by support from The Arts Council of New Orleans, the City of New Orleans, and the Decentralized Arts Funding Program of The Louisiana Division of the Arts; the J. J. and Dr. Donald Dooley Fund and administrator, Samuel L. Steele, III; Bertie Deming Smith and the Deming Foundation; the Hearst Corporation and Debra Shriver, Vice President; the Law Firm of Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles; the English Speaking Union; Rosemary James, Joseph DeSalvo and Faulkner House, Inc; Randy Fertel and The Ruth U. Fertel Foundation; Arthur & Mary Davis, Quint Davis, and Pam Friedler; Alexa Georges; the Louisiana State Museum; Elizabeth McKinley; Hotel Monteleone; Mr. & Mrs. Hartwig Moss, III; Theodosia M. Nolan, Tia and James Roddy, and Peter Tattersall; Parkside Foundation; Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre; Anne and Ron Pincus; Other Press, a Division of Random House; E. Quinn Peeper and Michael Harold; Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture: Nancy Cater, Editor; the State Library of Louisiana; Judith "Jude" Swenson in memory of her late husband, James Swenson

 
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