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Richard Carrel Ford (1944–)

Richard Carrel Ford is a Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist whose formative years in Little Rock (Pulaski County) helped shape his career as a writer. He has written seven novels and five collections of short works and was the first person to be awarded both the Pulitzer and the PEN/Faulkner Award for the same book.

Ford was born on February 16, 1944, in Jackson, Mississippi, to Parker Carrel and Edna Ford. His mother was a native of Arkansas, and his grandfather, Ben Shelley, managed the Marion Hotel in downtown Little Rock. As a child, Ford often spent his summers at the hotel and, during his teen years, worked as a lifeguard at the Little Rock Country Club. Ford recalls that his residence in the hotel provided him a unique glimpse into the adult world. The various interactions he saw between men and women helped form the keen sense of observation that illuminates much of his work.

Although mildly dyslexic as a child, Ford later commented that the affliction actually helped his writing by making him focus on individual words. In 1966, he received his BA in literature from Michigan State University and, after a brief stint in law school, turned to writing fiction and returned to Little Rock, where he worked as substitute teacher at Central High School.

Ford received his MFA from the University of California at Irvine in 1970. On March 28, 1968, he was married to Kristina Ford, a city planner and now professor of environmental studies at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. They have no children.

He was a Guggenheim fellow in 1977–78 and two-time winner of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1979–80 and 1985–86. Ford won a PEN/Faulkner citation for his book, The Sportswriter, in 1987. He also received an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature in 1987 and the 1994 Rea Award, which honors writers who have made a continuing and significant contribution to the short story as an art form.

His book Independence Day won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1996. The book chronicles the mid-life transition of Frank Bascombe and is a sequel to Ford’s earlier book, The Sportswriter. In 2006, he published a third book on Bascombe, The Lay of the Land.

Ford’s characters often are alienated and emotionally impaired males battling to overcome loneliness. His other themes have included the potential for language to create human connections and the redeeming quality of human affection.

Although a native Southerner, Ford resists the idea of labeling authors as “Southern writers” and once told an interviewer, “Personally, I don’t think there is such a thing as Southern writing or Southern literature or a Southern ethos.” By way of example, Ford commented further that William Faulkner was not a great Southern writer but a great writer who happened to live in the South.

Ford and his wife have lived and worked in Montana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Maine. Only one of his books, A Piece of my Heart, was set in the South. The Sportswriter and its sequel, Independence Day, were set in New Jersey. While living in Jackson, Mississippi, Ford was a neighbor of noted author Eudora Welty; he is also the literary executor of her estate.

After winning the Pulitzer Prize, Ford offered this summation of his life as a writer: “I can’t really complain about writing’s difficulty. No one makes me do it. If it was too hard, I’d quit. But the fact is, that whatever’s hard about it is quite nicely balanced by the realization that I’m doing what [Russian author Anton] Chekov did, and that I might make a contribution to the life of another, that I often find it pleasurable, funny, personally refreshing, intellectually stimulating.”

In 2008, Ford began teaching at the Oscar Wilde Centre at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He replaced Barry Hannah as senior fiction professor at the University of Mississippi in 2011. The following year, he assumed the position of the Emmanuel Roman and Barrie Sardoff Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Writing position at Columbia University. His seventh novel, Canada, was published in 2012.

For additional information:
Guagliardo, Huey, ed. Perspectives on Richard Ford. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.

Internet Guide to Mississippi Writers. http://www.olemiss.edu/mwp (accessed April 11, 2014). 

Lee, Don. “About Richard Ford: A Profile.” Ploughshares: The Literary Journal at Emerson College 22 (Fall 1996): 226235. 

Rod Lorenzen

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Updated 4/11/2014

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