February 16 is the birthday of novelist Richard Ford.
in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1944, he's best known as the author of the
novels The Sportswriter (1985) and Independence Day (1995).
He once said that one of the reasons he became a writer is because he was mildly
dyslexic as a child and had to concentrate on words more intensely than most
people. He also lived across the street from novelist and short story
writer Eudora Welty, and his mother used to point her out to him as someone
to look up to.
After his father had a heart attack, Ford went to live with his
grandparents, who managed a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. He went to
college to study hotel management, but when he got there he realized that he
really wanted to study literature; so, he switched his major to
Following college, Ford taught for a year, tried to join the
Arkansas State Police, and spent a semester at law school. In 1968, he
moved to New York City, where he married and settled down. He wanted
to do something "different"; so he began to write. To him, "being a
writer just seemed like a good idea. It was just casting off into the
Ford's first novel, A Piece of My Heart, came out in 1976. He
followed that up with The Ultimate Good Luck (1981). The two
books together sold fewer than 12,000 copies, and Ford started thinking that
maybe he wasn't cut out for writing novels. He quit writing fiction
and got a job as a sportswriter for Inside Sports magazine, covering
baseball and college football. He liked his new job and would have
kept at it if the magazine hadn't have folded the following year.
When he suddenly found himself with nothing else to do, he
decided to write a novel about a fiction writer who becomes a sportswriter after the death of his son.
The Sportswriter was published in 1986, and it was a huge critical and
popular success. He wrote in the book, "I had written all I
was going to write, if the truth had been known, and there is nothing wrong
with that. If more writers knew that, the world would be saved a lot
of bad books, and more peopleŚmen and women alikeŚcould go on to happier,
more productive lives."
Ford's 1995 novel, Independence Day, picks up where The Sportswriter
leaves off, with the sportswriter now a realtor trying to connect with his
wife and his teenage son. After Ford finished writing it, he read
aloud the whole 700-page manuscript, twice. Just before it was going
to be published, his editor mentioned offhand that there were quite a few
verbs that ended in "-ly". Ford agreed, and spent two weeks going back
through the novel to change all of the adverbs he could. His hard work
paid off. Independence Day won the
Pulitzer Prize for Literature
All of Ford's novels feature restless and alienated male protagonists who
are haunted by painful experiences that render them incapable of emotional
commitment. They are emotionally involving and have a strong sense of
place, vivid description, and cynical humor.
Ford, who said, "If loneliness is the disease, the story is
the cure," moved to Rhode Island where he works without the distractions of
life in his home town.
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