Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Richard Ford


Richard Ford 1944

Major Works

  • Novels
    • A Piece of My HeartRichard Ford by Nancy Jacobs
    • The Ultimate Good Luck
    • Wildlife
    • The Sportswriter
    • Independence Day
    • The Lay of the Land 2007
    • Canada 2012
  • Short Story Collections
    • Rock Springs
    • Women with Men 1997
    • Multitude of Sins 2002
  • Collaborative Portfolio
    • Privacy (with seven etchings by artist Jane Kent)
  • The Lay of the Land 2007

Richard Ford at MIAL in Columbus, MS. in 2013. Photo by Nancy Jacobs

Biography of Richard Ford
By Brandon Patton (SHS)

Richard Ford, a Mississippi writer who in 1996 won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature for Independence Day, was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on February 16, 1944. While growing up, Richard went to Davis Elementary, the same elementary school Eudora Welty attended. He even had some of the sameCanada by Richard Ford teachers! Interestingly, he also lived across the street from Eudora! Richard graduated from high school in Mississippi , then went on to get his B. A. from Michigan State University and his M. F. A. from the University of California. Ford wrote short stories for Esquire, The Paris Review, and The New Yorker before completing his first novel, A Piece of My Heart, in 1976. Richard has written many more novels such as The Ultimate Good Luck (1981), The Sportswriter (1986), Wildlife, and Independence Day. Ford has won many awards and is a member of the Writers Guild. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the PEN/Faulkner citation for fiction for The Sportswriter, as well as the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer for Literature for his novel Independence Day. With these awards and novels, Richard Ford has become one of the best-known authors in Mississippi. He published a  novel called Women with Men in the summer of 1997. In April of 2000 he collaborated with Jane Kent to publish a portfolio of seven etchings with letterpress text and his short story "Privacy."

*Note: In August of 2001, author Richard Ford, who grew up in the same Richard Ford, Pulitzer Winnerneighborhood as Eudora Welty, was a pallbearer at Eudora Welty's funeral and is the literary executor of her work, charged with making editorial decisions about her old and new works.  Both Welty and Ford have not only the same elementary school in common (although years apart--Ford is 57 and Welty was 92 when she died), but also the Pulitzer Prize!

The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

2008 UPDATE: In 2007, Richard Ford published The Lay of the Land, which became a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and A New York Times Best Book of the Year. It continues the story of the main character Frank Bascombe. Ford's Trilogy became a six-hour miniseries on HBO.The series will be based on Richard Ford's trilogy of books: The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land. See more below.

UPDATE 2013:

Winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, Ford had been adjunct professor at the Oscar Wilde Centre with the School of English at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, where he taught on the master’s program in creative writing. Ford assumed the post of senior fiction professor at University of Mississippi in 2011, replacing the late Barry Hannah. Richard Ford reading from Canada. Photo by Nancy JacobsHis latest novel, Canada, was published in 2012. He is now the Emmanuel Roman and Barrie Sardoff Professor of the humanities and professor of Writing at the Columbia University School of the Arts. In 2013 Richard Ford was awarded the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for fiction.

Biography of Richard Ford
By Park Zhou (SHS)

Richard Ford, well-known Mississippi writer, is the winner of both the 1996 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize in Literature for his novel Independence Day. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, on February 16, 1944, Richard Ford is the son of Parker Carrol and Edna Ford. While growing up, Ford, like Grisham, always wanted to be a lawyer. He attended law school for several years, but he quit and began to write fiction ( Bowden 243).

Richard Ford can be best described as one of our reigning interpreters of "achy, bittersweet familial melancholy" ( Cryer). Some of his earlier works include A Piece of My Heart, The Ultimate Good Luck, Fifty Great Years of Esquire Fiction, Wildlife, and The Sportswriter. All of Ford's novels feature restless and alienated male protagonists who are haunted by painful experiences that render them incapable of emotional commitment. The novels are deeply emotionally involving, and they have a keen sense of place, vivid description power, and cynical humor ( Matuz and Marowski 156).

Richard Ford is pallbearer at Welty funeralFord, who lived for a while in New Orleans, has moved to Jamestown, Rhode Island, to work on books away from the distractions of home (Clay). Published by Vintage Books, Independence Day is considered to be Richard Ford's best and most successful novel yet. For it, he received the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. His most recent novel is entitled Women with Men, but he has edited the Granta publication and done a portfolio with Jane Kent that includes his short story "Privacy."

2008 UPDATE: Richard Ford published The Lay of the Land to wide acclaim in 2007. See above for more recent updates.

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A Review of Independence Day
by Park Zhou (SHS)

Independence Day by Richard Ford is a powerful and exhilarating novel. The book is a sequel to The Sportswriter. The narrator, Frank Bascombe, a former sportswriter, is divorced and lives in Haddam, New Jersey. A real estate agent, Frank is going through what he calls "the Existence Period." Meanwhile his ex-wife, Ann, has married Charley O'Dell, an architect . She is now Mrs. Charley O'Dell of 86 Swallow Lane, Deep River, CT. Both his children live there too, though as Frank says, "I'm not certain how happy they are or even should be" (7). Frank's 15-year-old son, Paul, is an emotionally troubled teenager who faces a court date for shoplifting.

The novel begins on a Fourth of July weekend as Frank is trying to close a house sale. Frank's clients, the Markhams, are an indecisive couple from Vermont who are not satisfied with anything. "The house I could show them all fell significantly below their dream" (39). Actually, the Markhams never really want to buy a house; they just want "reality to set in."

Just as Frank is ready to spend his evening with his sometime lover, Sally Caldwell, he receives a message from his ex-wife. It turns out that Paul Independence Day by Richard Fordhas whacked his stepfather in the jaw with an oarlock. Frank decides to take Paul for a father-son trip to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The trip at first is quite successful as Frank tries to get his son to regain his interest in life and forget about all the troubles. "It's totally relevant--in my view--to Paul's difficulty in integrating his fractured past with his hectic present so that the two connect up in a commonsense way and make him free and independent rather than staying disconnected and distracted and driving him crazy" (259). Tragedy soon hits, however, as Paul gets knocked in the eye by a baseball going 75 miles-per-hour. Frank states, "Paul . . . turns his face to the machine, which, having no brain, or heart, or forbearance, or fear . . . squeezes another ball through its dark warp . . . and hit my son full in the face and knocks him flat down on his back with a terrible, loud thwock "(361).  Even though he is a good father, Frank is reluctant to have a solid commitment with the women in his life. "'And you're noncommittal . . . You're smooth and you're cautious and you 're noncommittal. That's not a very easy combination for me'" (272).

The novel stresses the idea of personal independence. Both Frank and Paul try to obtain independence from the nightmares which hold them captive. Frank has gone through a son's death, a divorce, and the ruin of his sportswriting career. Similarly, Paul has to face his parents' divorce, the death of his brother, and the death of his dog, Mr. Toby. The book itself, however, is lengthy and exhausting. It is perfect for someone who has a lot of patience and time. Still, Independence Day is an astonishing novel with compelling characters.

A Review of The Sportswriter
by Brandon Patton (SHS)

Richard Ford's fiction novel, The Sportswriter, is a definite page turner. This novel is written in first person and is an example of great character development. This novel is full of life and a great achievement for Ford. This is a book anyone can relate to; it's the sport everyone plays.

Frank Bascombe is the sportswriter who lives in suburban New Jersey. This story takes place during Easter week in the late 1950's or early 1960's. Frank and his ex-wife decide to meet at a graveyard to visit their deceased son Ralph. When this meeting is over , the reader begins to discover what kind of man Frank Bascombe really is. I got the impression that Frank was a man without any morals because he was constantly talking about hundred dollar whores . Frank finally does meet a lady; her name is Vicki. He takes Vicki on a business trip to Detroit where they spend about two days. Frank begins to fall in love with Vicki on this trip.

Later in the novel Frank decides to spend Easter with Vicki's family in Dallas, Texas. Frank is introduced to Vicki's entire family ;and through these country folks, Frank is taught a new sport, croquet.

Frank leaves Dallas; and as he gets into New Jersey, he calls a woman named Selma Jassim. While he is standing in the phone booth talking, a young man hits a shopping cart which flies into the phone booth, shattering one side of the glass and cutting Frank. Frank on his way home runs into an eighteen year old girl. She helps stop the bleeding from his cuts. They start a conversation about her career goals. Frank shows a different side of himself by saying, "Well, I'll make some calls and help you out."

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

This was one of the best novels I've read in a longtime. The character development is so great that you can't help but turn the pages. If you haven't read The Sportswriter by Richard Ford, it's definitely one to read.

A Review of Wildlife
by Phillip Murphy (SHS)

Richard Ford's coming of age novel Wildlife tells the story of sixteen year-old Joe Brinson and his family's struggles. In this novel, Joe Brinson is living in a new place and does not have many friends. He is close to each one of his parents. He is especially close to his father Jerry, who is Joe's best friend. Things start to unravel when Joe's father loses his job. His father then leaves to go fight a raging forest fire near their home. While he is gone, Wildlife by Richard FordJoe's mother has an affair with a man named Warren Miller. When Joe's father returns home three days later, his wife tells him what she has done. Jerry then goes over to Warren Miller's house and promptly sets it on fire. In the very end of the book, Warren decides not to press charges against Joe's father, and that is where the book ends.

Ford tries to keep the reader interested in his boring novel, but he does not do a very good job of it. He put in too many unnecessary things. Although he provided a few amusing anecdotes in his book, the boring, unnecessary parts out-weigh the interesting ones. Also, I am not big on books filled with affairs of wives cheating on husbands and vice versa. I did like Ford's use of irony in this novel. It was rather amusing the way Joe's father went off to fight fires to help his community out and then returned to set a man's house ablaze. Other than that part, the novel seemed dull. This is a good book for people who like to read somewhat slow-paced novels with few humorous insights in it.

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Related Websites

Writers at Guild Hall 1996 announce Ford wins both Pulitzer and PEN/William Faulkner Award.

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Bibliography

"1996 Pulitzer Prizes Announced." Bookweb. December13,1996.
     http://www.bookweb.org/news/btw/288.html

Bowden, Jane A., ed. "Richard Ford." Contemporary Authors. vol. 69-72. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Company, 1978. 243.

Clay, John. "Richard Ford Reference." Gunnar Bittersmann. December 1, 1996. (user.cs.tu-berlin.de/~gunnar/bruce/lt/1995.3/0062.html).

Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series. Volume 11. 211.

Cryer, Dan. "Independence Day." Newsday Direct. December 3, 1996. http://www.newsday.com/books/bkindep.htm).

Ford, Richard. Wildlife. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990.

Marowski, Daniel G., and Roger Matuz, ed. "Richard Ford." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 46. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Company, 1988. 156.

"Richard Ford 's Novel Independence Day Takes PEN/Faulkner Along with Pulitzer." Virtually Northwest. December 3, 1996.

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Last updated in June 12, 2013
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