Richard Ford

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Richard Ford
Richard Ford at Göteborg Book Fair 2013 01.jpg
American writer Richard Ford at the Göteborg Book Fair 2013
Born(1944-02-16) February 16, 1944 (age 70)
Jackson, Mississippi
Occupationnovelist, short story writer
NationalityUnited States
Period1976–present
GenreLiterary fiction
Literary movementDirty realism
 
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This article is about the American author. For other people, see Richard Ford (disambiguation).
Richard Ford
Richard Ford at Göteborg Book Fair 2013 01.jpg
American writer Richard Ford at the Göteborg Book Fair 2013
Born(1944-02-16) February 16, 1944 (age 70)
Jackson, Mississippi
Occupationnovelist, short story writer
NationalityUnited States
Period1976–present
GenreLiterary fiction
Literary movementDirty realism

Richard Ford (born February 16, 1944) is an American novelist and short story writer. His best-known works are the novel The Sportswriter and its sequels, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land, and the short story collection Rock Springs, which contains several widely anthologized stories.

Early life[edit]

Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi, the only son of Edna and Parker Carrol Ford. Parker was a traveling salesman for Faultless Starch, a Kansas City company. Of his mother, Ford has said, "Her ambition was to be, first, in love with my father and, second, to be a full-time mother." When Ford was eight years old, his father had a major heart attack, and thereafter Ford spent as much time with his grandfather, a former prizefighter and hotel owner in Little Rock, Arkansas, as he did with his parents in Mississippi. Ford's father died of a second heart attack in 1960.[1]

Ford's grandfather had worked for the railroad. At the age of 19, before deciding to attend college, Ford began work on the Missouri Pacific train line as a locomotive engineer's assistant, learning the work on the job.[2]

Ford received a B.A. from Michigan State University. Having enrolled to study hotel management, he switched to English. After graduating he taught junior high school in Flint, Michigan, 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.[3]

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.[4]

Ford briefly attended law school but dropped out and entered the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree, which he received 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.[5] In 1971, he was selected for a three-year appointment in the University of Michigan Society of Fellows.[6]

Early career[edit]

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.[3] Despite good notices the books sold little, and Ford retired from fiction writing to become a writer for the 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."[7]

In 1982, the magazine folded, and when Sports Illustrated did not hire Ford, he returned to fiction writing with 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.[7] Ford followed the success immediately with Rock Springs (1987), a story collection mostly set in Montana that includes some of his most popular stories, adding to his reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation.

Richard Ford at the Miami Book Fair International, 1987

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—along with Ann Beattie, Frederick Barthelme, Larry Brown, and Jayne Anne Phillips, among others.[8] 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" books (The Sportswriter, Independence Day, The Lay of the Land, and Let Me Be Frank With You), notably the protagonist himself, enjoy degrees of material affluence and cultural capital not normally associated with the "dirty realist" style.

Mid-career and acclaim[edit]

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.

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[9] and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[10] In the same year, Ford was chosen as winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, for outstanding achievement in that genre.[11] He ended this prodigiously creative and successful decade of the 1990s with a well-received story collection Women with Men published in 1997.

Later life and writings[edit]

Ford lived for many years on lower Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and then in the Garden District of New Orleans, Louisiana, where his wife Kristina was the executive director of the city planning commission. He now lives in East Boothbay, Maine.[12] In between these dwellings, Ford has lived in many other locations, usually in the U.S., though he's pursued an equally peripatetic teaching career.

He took up a teaching appointment at Bowdoin College in 2005, but remained in the post for only one semester.[13] In 2008 Ford served as an Adjunct Professor at the Oscar Wilde Centre with the School of English at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, teaching on the Masters programme in creative writing.[14] But starting on December 29, 2010, Ford assumed the post of senior fiction professor at the University of Mississippi in the fall of 2011, replacing Barry Hannah, who died in March 2010.

Ford's intense creative pace (writing, teaching, editing, publishing) did not subside, either, as a new decade (and a new century) commenced. He published another story collection A Multitude of Sins (2002), followed by The Lay of the Land (2006), which continues (and, according to Ford's explicit statements made at this time, ends) the Frank Bascombe series. However, in April 2013, Ford read from a new Frank Bascombe story without revealing to the audience whether or not it was part of a longer work.[15] But by 2014, it was confirmed that the story would indeed appear as part of a longer work to be published in November of that year. Titled Let Me Be Frank With You, it is a work consisting of four interconnected novellas (or 'long stories'), all narrated by Frank Bascombe.[16]

Also, as he did in the preceding decade, Ford continued to assist with various editing projects. In 2007, he edited the New Granta Book of the American Short Story, followed by the Library of America's two-volume edition of the selected works of fellow Mississippi writer Eudora Welty. Ford's latest novel, Canada, was published in May 2012.[17] In the fall of 2012, he became the Emmanuel Roman and Barrie Sardoff Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Writing at the Columbia University School of the Arts.[18]

Critical opinion[edit]

Richard Ford's writings demonstrate "a meticulous concern for the nuances of language ... [and] the rhythms of phrases and sentences". Ford has described his sense of language as "a source of pleasure in itself—all of its corporeal qualities, its syncopations, moods, sounds, the way things look on the page." This "devotion to language" is closely linked to what he calls "the fabric of affection that holds people close enough together to survive."[19]

Comparisons have been drawn between Ford's work and the writings of John Updike, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Walker Percy. Ford himself resists such comparisons, commenting, "You can't write ... on the strength of influence. You can only write a good story or a good novel by yourself."[20]

Ford's works of fiction "dramatize the breakdown of such cultural institutions as marriage, family, and community", and his "marginalized protagonists often typify the rootlessness and nameless longing ... pervasive in a highly mobile, present-oriented society in which individuals, having lost a sense of the past, relentlessly pursue their own elusive identities in the here and now."[21] Ford "looks to art, rather than religion, to provide consolation and redemption in a chaotic time."[22]

Awards and honors[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Novels[edit]

Story collections[edit]

Screenplays[edit]

As contributor or editor[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Laura Barton (2003-02-08). "''Guardian'' profile". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  2. ^ Richard Ford (2013-10-19). "A Boy Who Played With Trains". New York: New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  3. ^ a b Guagliardo 2001, p.xiii.
  4. ^ "Ford on his dyslexia, in conversation with the ''Washington Post''". Washingtonpost.com. 2006-12-14. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  5. ^ "Profile in the journal ''Ploughshares''". Pshares.org. 2010-07-08. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  6. ^ "Alumni Fellows | Society of Fellows". Societyoffellows.umich.edu. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  7. ^ a b "''Ploughshares'' profile". Pshares.org. 2010-07-08. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  8. ^ "''Granta'' interview with Tim Adams". Granta.com. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  9. ^ a b "PEN/Faulkner Foundation list of winners". Penfaulkner.org. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  10. ^ a b "Pulitzer Prize citation". Pulitzer.org. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  11. ^ a b "Rea Award citation". Reaaward.org. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  12. ^ Mehegan, David (2006-12-04). "''Boston Globe'' profile". Boston.com. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  13. ^ Story posted October 13, 2004 (2004-10-13). "News of Bowdoin College appointment". Bowdoin.edu. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  14. ^ owc@tcd.ie (2010-12-22). "Oscar Wilde Centre: Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin, Ireland". Tcd.ie. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  15. ^ Liu, Lowen (2013-04-30). "Richard Ford's new Frank Bascombe story shows the damage done by Hurricane Sandy". Slate.com. Retrieved 2014-01-10. 
  16. ^ a b http://www.lyceumagency.com/richard+ford.aspx
  17. ^ "Canada (novel)". www.harpercollins.com. 
  18. ^ "Richard Ford, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Joins Columbia Faculty | Columbia University School of the Arts". Arts.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2014-01-10. 
  19. ^ Guagliardo 2001, p.vii.
  20. ^ Guagliardo 2001, p.xi.
  21. ^ Guagliardo 2000, p.xiv.
  22. ^ Guagliardo 2000, p.xvi.
  23. ^ Italie, Hillel. "Ford, Egan win literary medals", San Jose Mercury News, June 30, 2013. Retrieved July 1, 2013.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]

Work
Profiles
Interviews
Archival collections