|Born||February 16, 1944
|Occupation||Novelist, short story writer|
|Writing period||1976 - present|
|Literary movement||Dirty realism|
Richard Ford (born February 16, 1944) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning 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.
Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi, 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 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.
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.
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 level.
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.
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 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."
In 1982 the magazine folded; 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. 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.
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 Ford was closely acquainted with—as well as Ann Beattie, Frederick Barthelme, and Jayne Anne Phillips, among others.
However misleading, the term "dirty realism" is still applied to Ford and other writers who write about the sadnesses and losses of ordinary people. Since the Rock Springs collection, Ford's fiction, particularly the "Frank Bascombe" novels (The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land), enjoy material affluence and cultural capital not associated with so-called "dirty realist" style and subject matter.
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. In 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 include the story collections Women with Men (1997) and A Multitude of Sins (2002). The Lay of the Land (2006) 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, Louisiana, where his wife Kristina was the executive director of the city planning commission. He now lives 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 Adjunct Professor at the Oscar Wilde Centre with the School of English at Trinity College, University of Dublin (Ireland), and teaches on the Masters programme in creative writing.
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."
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."
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." Ford "looks to art, rather than religion, to provide consolation and redemption in a chaotic time".
"Elephants feel the fatal footfalls of poachers a hundred miles off. Cats exit the room when oysters are opened. On and on, and on and on. The unseen exists and has properties." - The Lay of the Land
"Never tell anyone you know how she or he feels unless you happen to be, just at that second, stabbing yourself with the very same knife in the very same place in the very same heart she or he is stabbing. Because if you're not, then you don't know how anybody feels." - The Lay of the Land
"In Haddam, summer floats over tree-softened streets like a sweet lotion balm from a careless, languorous god, and the world falls in tune with its own mysterious anthems. Shaded lawns lie still and damp in the early a.m." - Independence Day
"The most important things of your life can change so suddenly, so unrecoverably, that you can forget even the most important of them and their connections, you are so taken up by the chanciness of all that's happened and by all that could and will happen next." - 'Optimists', Rock Springs
"When I woke in the dark this morning, my heart pounding like a tom-tom, it seemed to me as though a change were on its way, as if this dreaminess tinged with expectation, which I have felt for some time now, were lifting off of me into the cool tenebrous dawn." - The Sportswriter
RICHARD FORD (1796-1858), English author of one of the earliest and best of travellers' Handbooks, was the eldest son of Sir Richard Ford, who in 1789 was member of parliament for East Grinstead, and for many years afterwards chief police magistrate of London. His mother was the daughter and heiress of Benjamin Booth, a distinguished connoisseur in art. He was called to the bar, but never practised, and in1830-1833he travelled in Spain, spending much of his time in the Alhambra and at Seville. His first literary work (other than contributions to the Quarterly Review) was a pamphlet, An Historical Inquiry into the Unchangeable Character of a War in Spain (Murray, 1837), in reply to one called the Policy of England towards Spain, issued under the patronage of Lord Palmerston. He spent the winter of1839-1840in Italy, where he added largely to his collection of majolica; and soon after his return he began, at John Murray's invitation, to write his Handbook for Travellers in Spain, with which his name is chiefly associated. He died on the 1st of September 1858, leaving a fine private collection of pictures to his widow (d. 1910), his third wife, a daughter of .Sir A. Molesworth.
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