Richard Ford

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Richard Ford
Ford at the Göteborg Book Fair 2013
Ford at the Göteborg Book Fair 2013
Born (1944-02-16) February 16, 1944 (age 74)
Jackson, Mississippi
Occupation Novelist, short story writer
Nationality United States
Education Michigan State University, University of California, Irvine
Period 1976–present
Genre Literary fiction
Literary movement Dirty 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, The Lay of the Land and Let Me Be Frank With You, 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 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 severe 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.[1] Ford's father died of a second heart attack in 1960.[2]

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.[3]

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 United States Marine Corps but was discharged after contracting hepatitis. At university he met Kristina Hensley, his future wife; they married in 1968.[1]

Despite mild dyslexia, Ford developed a serious interest in literature. He has stated in interviews that his dyslexia may 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 "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 acknowledged 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,[7] 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 University.[1] 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 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."[5]

In 1982, the magazine folded, and when Sports Illustrated did not hire Ford, he returned to fiction, writing The Sportswriter,[8] 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.[5] Ford followed the success immediately with Rock Springs (1987),[9] a story collection mostly set in Montana, which 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—along with Ann Beattie, Frederick Barthelme, Larry Brown, and Jayne Anne Phillips, among others.[10] 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 novels about Frank Bascombe (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 dirty realism.

Mid-career and acclaim[edit]

His 1990 novel Wildlife, a story of a Montana golf pro turned firefighter, met with mixed reviews and middling sales, but by the end of the 1990s 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, the Fall 1996 "fiction issue" of Ploughshares,[11] and the 1998 Granta Book of the American Long Story. In the latter volume's "Introduction," Ford stipulated that he preferred the designation "long story" instead of term "novella." For the publishing project Library of America, Ford edited a two-volume edition of the selected works of the Mississippi writer Eudora Welty, which was published in 1998.

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[12] and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.[13] In the same year, Ford was chosen as winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, for outstanding achievement in that genre.[14] He ended the prodigiously creative and successful decade of the 1990s with a well-received collection of short stories, Women with Men, published in 1997. The Paris Review called him a "master" of the short story genre.[15]

Later life and writings[edit]

Autograph session, Miami Book Fair International, 2014

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.[16] In the intervening years, Ford lived in other locations, usually in the United States, as he pursued a peripatetic teaching career.

He took up a teaching appointment at Bowdoin College in 2005 but remained in the post for only one semester.[17] In 2008 Ford was as an adjunct professor at the Oscar Wilde Centre with the School of English at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, teaching in the Masters programme in creative writing.[18] 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. In the fall of 2012, he became the Emmanuel Roman and Barrie Sardoff Roman Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Writing at the Columbia University School of the Arts.[19]

As the new century commenced, he published another story collection, A Multitude of Sins (2002), followed by the novels The Lay of the Land, the third Bascombe novel published in 2006, and Canada, published in May 2012.[20] According to Ford, The Lay of the Land completed his series of Bascombe novels, but Canada was a stand-alone novel. 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.[21] By 2014, it was confirmed that the story was to appear in the book Let Me Be Frank with You, published in November of that year.[22] The latter is a work consisting of four interconnected novellas (or "long stories": I'm Here, Everything Could Be Worse, The New Normal and Deaths of Others), all narrated by Frank Bascombe.[23] Let Me Be Frank With You was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. It did not win the prize, but the selection committee praised the book for its "unflinching series of narratives, set in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, insightfully portraying a society in decline."[24]

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, and in 2011 he edited Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar: Stories of Work. In May 2017, Ford published a memoir, Between Them: Remembering My Parents.[25]

Critical opinion[edit]

Ford's writing 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."[26]

Comparisons have been drawn between Ford's work and the writings of John Updike, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and Walker Percy. Ford 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."[27]

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."[28] Ford "looks to art, rather than religion, to provide consolation and redemption in a chaotic time."[29]

Personal life[edit]

Ford once sent Alice Hoffman a copy of one of her books with bullet holes in it after she angered him by unfavorably reviewing The Sportswriter.[30]

Ford once spat on Colson Whitehead after a negative review of "A Multitude of Sins", leading to speculation that the incident may have been racially motivated rather than a matter of critical differences.[31]

Awards and honors[edit]



Story collections[edit]

  • Rock Springs (1987)
  • Women with Men: Three Stories (1997)
  • A Multitude of Sins (2002)
  • Vintage Ford (2004)
  • Let Me Be Frank With You (2014) — collects 4 novellas: I'm Here; Everything Could Be Worse; The New Normal; and Deaths of Others[37]


  • Between Them: Remembering My Parents (2017)


As contributor or editor[edit]

  • The Granta Book of the American Short Story (1992)
  • The Granta Book of the American Long Story (1999)
  • The Essential Tales of Chekhov (1999)
  • Foreword to Alec Soth, NIAGARA (Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2006)
  • The New Granta Book of the American Short Story (2007)
  • Blue Collar, White Collar, No Collar: Stories of Work (2011)
  • Foreword to Maude Schuyler Clay, Mississippi History (Göttingen, Germany: Steidl, 2015)


  1. ^ a b c Guagliardo 2001, p.xiii.
  2. ^ Laura Barton (2003-02-08). "''Guardian'' profile". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  3. ^ Richard Ford (2013-10-19). "A Boy Who Played with Trains". New York: New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-20. 
  4. ^ "Ford on His Dyslexia, in Conversation with the Washington Post;". 2006-12-14. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  5. ^ a b c This citation is now only available in its "Profile in the journal ''Ploughshares''". 2010-07-08. Archived from the original on 2009-10-22. Retrieved 2011-08-18.  via the Web Archive. It was originally cited here: "Profile in the journal ''Ploughshares''". 2010-07-08. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  6. ^ "Alumni Fellows | Society of Fellows". Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  7. ^ 1944-, Ford, Richard, (1985-01-01). A Piece of My Heart. Vintage. ISBN 9780394729145. OCLC 924573478. 
  8. ^ Ford, Richard (1996-01-01). The Sportswriter. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 9780679454519. OCLC 35049877. 
  9. ^ Ford, Richard. Rock Springs : Stories. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 9780871131591. OCLC 829387991. 
  10. ^ "''Granta'' interview with Tim Adams". Archived from the original on 2011-09-12. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  11. ^ "Fall 1996 - Ploughshares". 
  12. ^ a b "PEN/Faulkner Foundation list of winners". Archived from the original on 2008-04-21. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  13. ^ a b "Pulitzer Prize citation". Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  14. ^ a b "Rea Award citation". Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  15. ^ Lyons, Bonnie (1996-01-01). "Richard Ford, The Art of Fiction No. 147". Paris Review (140). ISSN 0031-2037. Retrieved 2016-01-10. 
  16. ^ Mehegan, David (2006-12-04). "''Boston Globe'' profile". Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  17. ^ Story posted October 13, 2004 (2004-10-13). "News of Bowdoin College appointment". Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  18. ^ (2010-12-22). "Oscar Wilde Centre: Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin, Ireland". Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2011-08-18. 
  19. ^ "Richard Ford, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Joins Columbia Faculty | Columbia University School of the Arts". Archived from the original on 2013-12-12. Retrieved 2014-01-10. 
  20. ^ "Canada (novel)". 
  21. ^ Liu, Lowen (2013-04-30). "Richard Ford's New Frank Bascombe Story Shows the Damage Done by Hurricane Sandy". Retrieved 2014-01-10. 
  22. ^ "Frank and me: Richard Ford on his Bascombe novels". Financial Times. Retrieved 2 August 2015. 
  23. ^ Richard Ford, Lyceum Agency, 2014
  24. ^ a b "The 2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Fiction", The Pulitzer Prizes.
  25. ^ "For Richard Ford, Memoir Is A Chance To 'Tell The Unthinkable'". 
  26. ^ Guagliardo 2001, p.vii.
  27. ^ Guagliardo 2001, p. xi.
  28. ^ Guagliardo 2000, p. xiv.
  29. ^ Guagliardo 2000, p. xvi.
  30. ^ "Richard Ford and Alice Hoffman 30 years later". 23 March 2016. Retrieved 5 September 2017. 
  31. ^ "Richard Ford, pissed about negative review, spits on Colson Whitehead!url=". 
  32. ^ "Richard Ford wins Princess of Asturias Award for Literature". euronews. 15 June 2016. 
  33. ^ Italie, Hillel. "Ford, Egan Win Literary Medals", San Jose Mercury News, June 30, 2013. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  34. ^ "Kenyon Review for Literary Achievement". 
  35. ^ "Saint Louis Literary Award - Saint Louis University". 
  36. ^ Saint Louis University Library Associates. "Richard Ford to Receive 2005 Saint Louis Literary Award". Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  37. ^ Michael Schaub. "Frankly, Bascombe's Return Has Some Problems", 2014-11-06. Retrieved 2015-01-06.

Works cited[edit]

  • Elinor Walker, Richard Ford (New York, NY; Twayne Publishers, 2000) ISBN 0805716793
  • Huey Guagliardo, Perspectives on Richard Ford: Redeemed by Affection (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2000) ISBN 978-1-57806-234-8
  • Huey Guagliardo, ed., Conversations with Richard Ford (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2001) ISBN 978-1-57806-406-9
  • Brian Duffy, Morality, Identity and Narrative in the Fiction of Richard Ford, (New York, NY; Amsterdam; Rodopi, 2008) ISBN 978-904202-409-0
  • Joseph M. Armengol, Richard Ford and the Fiction of Masculinities (New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2010) ISBN 978-143311-086-3
  • Ian McGuire, Richard Ford and the Ends of Realism (Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2015) ISBN 978-1-60938-343-5

External links[edit]

Archival collections