Richard Ford 1944-
American short story writer, novelist, and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Ford's short fiction career through 2002.
Although Ford is best known as the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Sportswriter (1986) and its equally well-received sequel Independence Day (1995), his short fiction, especially Rock Springs (1987), has also attracted critical attention. Much of Ford's writing deals with the issue of contradiction, as it manifests itself between doing and saying, prescription and symptom, event and its subsequent reporting. This theme very often becomes intertwined with questions about the limits and the efficacy of individualism in contemporary America.
Ford, the only son of Parker Ford and his wife Edna, was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on February 16, 1944. As a child, Ford and his mother often joined Parker Ford, a traveling starch salesman, on the road. At other times, Edna traveled with her husband, leaving Ford to stay with his maternal grandparents at the Marion Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, which was run by his grandfather. In 1962 Ford enrolled at Michigan State University, where he majored in literature and graduated with a B.A. in 1966. After briefly attending law school at Washington University, he enrolled in a creative writing program at the University of California at Irvine, where he studied under E. L. Doctorow and earned a M.F.A. in 1970. In 1968 he married Kristina Hensley, a research professor in the field of urban and regional planning, whom he often refers to as a primary influence on the development of his writing. Ford taught creative writing at the University of Michigan (1974-1976), Williams College (1978-1979), and Princeton University (1979-1980). His first national magazine appearance was in 1976 when “In Desert Waters” was published in Esquire. While Ford published his first novel, A Piece of My Heart, in 1976, he did not receive national recognition until the publication of his third novel, The Sportswriter, in 1986. This breakthrough work followed a brief hiatus from writing. Dissatisfied with his life in New Jersey, disappointed with the reception of his second novel, The Ultimate Good Luck (1981), and, most important, grappling with his mother's terminal illness, Ford gave up writing novels in 1981 and instead wrote articles for the magazine Inside Sports. Since his return to fictional writing, Ford has continued to receive national critical acclaim for his novels and more recently his short stories. He has been the recipient of many honors and grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1977, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1978, and a Mississippi Academy of Arts and Letters' Literature Award in 1987 among them.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Rock Springs, a collection of ten short stories, includes some of Ford's most critically acclaimed fiction to date. Set mainly in Montana, these stories take the reader from the civic-minded, suburban milieu of New Jersey to the windswept, bleak, semi-rural, and often extremely limited economic horizons of the American West. Many of the stories in this collection and his two others, Women with Men (1997) and A Multitude of Sins (2001), examine the theme of alienation and impoverishment of human relationships, especially the relationship between men and women, which receives considerable attention in all three collections. Another theme that runs throughout Ford's short fiction is that of rootlessness. The fact that many of his main characters are travelers or wanders who desire or are in search of a home in the world allows Ford to explore the conflicting forces that act on individuals, thus underscoring the inconsistency of American life at the close of the twentieth century.
Although Ford has been labeled a “Southern” writer, he opposes any attempts to classify his writings. The number of different labels attached to his writing attests to the fact that his writing resists categorization. Since the publication of his first novel, Ford has evoked conflicting critical responses, but has become an increasingly popular writer. One of the criticisms most often made of Ford's writing is that it is hypermasculine. However, many critics also agree that his characters accurately reflect the uncertainty associated with twentieth-century American life. Many reviewers of Ford's last two short fiction collections found them not representative of his best work and suggest that perhaps his strength lies in writing novels. Ford received the Rea Award for his short fiction in 1995. He was also awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1996 for his novel Independence Day.