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...
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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.
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...
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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...
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