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Richard Ford

February 16 is the birthday of novelist Richard Ford.  Born 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 English. 

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 dark."

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 in 1995.

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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