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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2004

Writer Richard Ford reads from his work Feb. 12

First author to receive both Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award for a single work

Feb. 9, 2004

By Deidra Jackson
University of Mississippi News Services

Richard Ford
Acclaimed author Richard Ford reads in Johnson Commons from The Lay of the Land, the ‘most serious and the most comic’ in his three-novel series.

OXFORD, Miss. — Leaving the Mississippi Delta — where he lived “a wonderful monotony” for some five years— was the best thing award-winning novelist Richard Ford did for the sake of his writing, he said.

“If I stayed, it would have confined me to writing about subjects written by other Mississippians, like Richard Wright and William Faulkner,” said Ford, who reads from his newest work Feb.12 at the University of Mississippi. “I had to go find something that only I could write about … that would be good, that would be mine.”

Ford, whose 1996 novel Independence Day was the first book to win both the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award, reads at 7 p.m. in Paul B. Johnson Commons ballroom. The program is free and open to the public. His visit is sponsored by the John and Renee Grisham Visiting Writers Series and the Department of English.

Preceding his reading, the Jackson-born author who later lived in Cleveland, plans to be in downtown Oxford for a 1:30-2:30 p.m. book signing at Square Books.

At UM, Ford will read from The Lay of the Land, a novel he is writing as the third in a series featuring protagonist Frank Bascombe, a sportswriter highlighted in Ford’s novels The Sportswriter (1986) and Independence Day.

Set at Thanksgiving in the year 2000 in suburban New Jersey — the setting for all his novels — The Lay of the Land will be the “most serious and the most comic of the three,” said Ford by telephone from his ocean-front home in East Booth Bay, Maine. “I’ve been writing it for a year and a little more, but it’ll be a three-and-a-half- year project.”

“He writes powerful ruminations,” said author Barry Hannah, Ford’s longtime friend and fellow Jackson native who is UM’s writer-in-residence. “I think his reading will be superb. He’s one of the strongest short story writers of all time.”

Ford has written six novels and three short-story collections. His other novels are A Piece of My Heart (1976), The Ultimate Good Luck (1981) and Wildlife (1990). He also has published three story collections: Rock Springs (1987), Women with Men (1997) and A Multitude of Sins (2002).

Although born and raised in the South, Ford, who turns 60 on Feb. 16, has traveled extensively throughout the country, keeping residencies in Montana, Maine and New Orleans, where he lives on Bourbon Street with his wife Kristina Ford, who is executive director of the city planning commission.

Ford’s short stories have been widely anthologized and have appeared in Esquire, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Granta. He edited The Granta Book of the American Short Story (1992), The Granta Book of the American Long Story and The Complete Stories of Anton Chekov, among others.

What advice would Ford offer to struggling or beginning writers? Talk yourself out of it.

“There’s not a bit of advice that hasn’t been contradicted by any other bit of advice,” he quipped.

Among the numerous other awards and honors Ford has received are a Guggenheim Fellowship, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, and the 1994 Rea Award, which is given annually to a writer who has made contributions to the short story as an art form.

In citing Ford’s work, the Rea Award jurors said, “Richard Ford’s power lies in the deceiving simplicity of his language, in the complexity of the emotions he explores and in the extraordinary tenderness with which most of the people in his stories go about the solitary business of loving, and seeking love.”

Ford received a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, where he studied literature and began to write stories. He attended law school at Washington University in St. Louis for one semester, but quit to pursue a career in writing. He received a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of California at Irvine.

He has taught at Princeton University, Williams College and the University of Michigan. Ford wrote the screenplay for the 1991 film Bright Angel, which starred Sam Shepard and was based on two stories from Rock Springs.

Said film critic Roger Ebert: “No other writer can take the image of the West — the freedom of the open prairies — and make it seem like such a closed-in place, so drained of freedom, and threatening.”

“He is a man of great character and loyalty to his friends,” Hannah added. “Richard was forthright in his attack on racism. He’s enlightened me, more quickly than others of us, to racial injustice.”

For more information about Ford’s reading or assistance related to a disability, call the Department of English at 662-915-7439.

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