Richard Ford Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Richard Ford was born February 16, 1944, in Jackson, Mississippi, shortly after his parents, Parker Carrol Ford and Edna Akin Ford, moved there from Arkansas. By the time Ford graduated from high school, his father had died suddenly of a heart attack, and his mother decided to return with her son to Arkansas. The conditions of his youth—growing up in the Deep South as an only child, living alone with his widowed mother—contributed much to the tone and content of the fiction he was to write in later years. His essay “My Mother, in Memory” (1987), reflects on the events of his early years and on the influence of his relationship with his parents.

After Ford received his B.A. in 1966 from Michigan State University, he worked for a year as a writer for a sports magazine, an occupation that was to influence his novel The Sportswriter (1986). It was two years after his graduation that he determined to abandon his intention to be a lawyer and to become a writer instead. The same year, he married Kristina Hensley, a fellow student at Michigan State who subsequently became a professor of urban affairs and political science as well as a planner for several American cities. In 1970, Ford earned an M.F.A. from the University of California, Irvine, where he studied creative writing with novelists Oakley Hall and E. L. Doctorow. He taught for one year at the University of Michigan before the publication of A Piece of My Heart (1976), his...

(The entire section is 567 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ford’s philosophy of art involves his belief that the creative artist is driven to create order in a world that is essentially chaotic. The writing of fiction is, for him, an act of finding meaning in events that otherwise merely confound the participant and the observer.

Dealing with characters who are usually out of the mainstream of American life, writing in a language controlled and even subdued, Ford evokes sympathy from his readers, who must recognize, in the painful and persistent questionings of his protagonists, their own attempts to understand life. Ford’s novels and stories, centered on events that are often depressing in nature, nevertheless celebrate the persistence of the human longing to be a part of the world and to find ultimate answers.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Though he does not consider himself a southern writer, Richard Ford was born in the Deep South in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1944, and he grew up there. Like Sam Newel, one of the two principal characters of A Piece of My Heart, Ford’s father was a traveling salesman whose territory might have coincided with that of Sam Newel’s salesman father in the novel. In 1952, Ford’s father suffered a heart attack, after which Richard lived with his grandparents, who ran a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. Ford grew into a relatively wild teenager, and, according to Bruce Weber, his mother “kept him from serious scrapes with the law.” Ford’s father died in 1960, and in 1962 Ford went to East Lansing to study literature at Michigan State University, where he met Kristina Hensley, whom he later married. For a year after graduation, Ford taught high school in Flint, Michigan, then enrolled for one semester as a law student at Washington University in St. Louis. Thereafter, he worked briefly in New York City as assistant editor for a trade magazine, The American Druggist.

He then seriously began pursuing his career as a writer, studying at the University of California at Irvine with Oakley Hall and E. L. Doctorow. He also lived in Chicago and Mexico, where his novel The Ultimate Good Luck is set. He taught at the University of Michigan, Princeton University, Goddard College, and Williams College. Ford told People magazine in...

(The entire section is 551 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Richard Ford was the only son of Parker Carrol Ford, a salesman, and Edna (Akin) Ford, a housewife. Ford spent his youth in Jackson, Mississippi, but after his father suffered a nonfatal heart attack in 1952, Ford lived part of each year at his grandparents’ hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. As a teenager in Mississippi, Ford had several minor scrapes with the law. His father had another heart attack and died in Ford’s arms in 1960.

Ford entered college at Michigan State University in 1962 to study hotel management. While there he met his future wife, Kristina Hensley, in 1964. They were married in 1968, and Kristina eventually earned a Ph.D. in urban planning. Ford gave up hotel management to major in English and graduated with a B.A. in 1966. He began and abandoned a law degree, then pursued a master of fine arts degree in fiction writing (awarded 1970) at the University of California at Irvine, where he studied under E. L. Doctorow. In 1970 he applied himself to becoming a full-time writer, attempting, without success, to publish short stories. The following year he began work on his first novel, A Piece of My Heart.

Ford has received numerous awards and honors, including 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 a contribution to the short story as an art form. In 1995, Ford’s novel Independence Day was the first book to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award.

Along with his own writing, Ford has edited issues of the literary journals Ploughshares (1996) and TriQuarterly (1998) as well as anthologies such as The Granta Book of the American Short Story (1992) and The Granta Book of the American Long Story (1998). Ford has taught at the University of Michigan, Williams College, and Princeton University.

The lives of Ford and his wife reflect the transience that is one of the major themes of his writings; they have moved frequently and had lived in twelve houses by the late 1990’s, when they were living in New Orleans, where Kristina served as executive director of the city planning commission. In the year 2000, Ford and his wife relocated to a year-round home in East Boothbay, Maine, and Ford took a position teaching at Bowdoin College.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Richard Ford was born in the Deep South, in the land of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, and his first novel, A Piece of My Heart, is a work in the Southern gothic tradition. Ford has also written about other parts of America, paying particular attention, in the short stories in Rock Springs and in the short novel Wildfire, to the American West (especially Montana). In The Sportswriter and its sequel Independence Day Ford writes about the Northeast, where Ford lived while he taught at Princeton. Wherever his fiction is set, however, Ford shows how environment and occupation help define his characters’ identities.

After some teenage scrapes with the law, which, it may be said, find their expression in his stories of thieves, drifters, and losers, Ford left the South to attend college at the University of Michigan. Except for some short-term teaching positions, he has spent his adult life almost exclusively as a writer. Like his best friend, the late Raymond Carver, Ford has written extensively about lower-and lower-middle-class characters, and how they often struggle simply to get by. In his short fiction, particularly, the question of where a next paycheck (or even a next meal) will come from can define characters and can remove the element of free will that helps more affluent people define themselves.

Even for Ford’s more affluent characters, the next paycheck is important. Ford’s calling as a writer defines him in the same way that occupations define the identities of many of his characters. Frank Bascombe, the narrator of Ford’s two best-known novels, The Sportswriter and Independence Day, allows his jobs (sportswriter and realtor, respectively) to determine not only how he spends his time but also the shape of his life, thoughts, and beliefs. Like John Updike, Ford shows how for many American men a job becomes the central focus of identity, although it is also shaped by the environment they occupy.