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 first novel.
In 1979 and 1980, Ford held a position as a lecturer at Williams College, followed by two years as a lecturer and George Perkins Fellow in Humanities at Princeton University, where he completed The Ultimate Good Luck (1981). This second novel, set in Mexico, exemplifies his tendency to use a variety of locales and represents his turning away from the Southern environment of his childhood.
Though Ford began to direct serious attention to the short story only with “Going to the Dogs” (1979), he wrote his first short story, never published, when he was seventeen. From 1979 to 1986, he spent much of his time writing short works of fiction, although he was also at work on a third novel. The Sportswriter represents yet another departure in setting, in type of protagonist, and in some of its themes. This novel brought him wide recognition both in the United States and abroad as a major fiction writer. The next year, the stories he had written in the 1980’s were published in the collection Rock Springs (1987). His fourth novel, Wildlife (1990), is his first with a teenage protagonist and thus shows the influence of his short stories, in many of which a young man is the central figure.
In addition to writing fiction, Ford has produced a number of essays that comment on the craft of writing, on other authors, on members of his family, on sports and hunting, and on a variety of other topics ranging from motorcycles to rock musicians to friendship. In the 1990’s, the range of his mastery of genres was indicated by his publication of the short story “Jealous” (1992), his novella, The Womanizer (1992; also published in Women with Men, 1997), and personal and critical essays in several periodicals.
Ford has lived with his wife in a variety of locales, including New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, rural Mississippi, Montana, Louisiana, and Maine, and this geographical flexibility is reflected in his fiction.
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...
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