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Richard Ford (born February 16, 1944) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist and short story writer. His best-known works are the novel The Sportswriter and its sequels, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land, and the widely anthologized story collection Rock Springs.
Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi, the only son of a traveling salesman for Faultless Starch, a Kansas City company. When Ford was eight years old, his father had a major heart attack, and thereafter Ford spent as much time with his grandfather, a former prizefighter and hotel owner in Arkansas, as he did with his parents in Mississippi. Ford’s father died of a second heart attack in 1960.
Ford received a B. A. from Michigan State University, where he also met Kristina Hensley, his future wife; the two married in 1968. Despite a mild dyslexia, Ford developed a serious interest in literature. He has stated in interviews that his dyslexia may in fact have helped him as a reader, as it forced him to approach books at a slow and thoughtful level.
Ford briefly attended law school but dropped out and entered the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree, which he received in 1970.
Later Life and Works
Ford published his first novel, A Piece of My Heart, the story of two unlikely drifters whose paths cross on an island in the Mississippi River, in 1976, and followed it with The Ultimate Good Luck in 1981. Despite good notices the books sold little, and Ford retired from fiction writing to become a writer for the New York magazine Inside Sports.
In 1982 the magazine folded; when Sports Illustrated failed to hire Ford, he returned to fiction writing with The Sportswriter, a novel about a failed novelist turned sportswriter who undergoes an emotional crisis following the death of his son. The novel became Ford’s "breakout book", named one of Time magazine's five best books of 1986 and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Ford followed the success immediately with Rock Springs (1987), a story collection that includes some of his most popular stories, adding to his reputation as one of the finest writers of his generation.
Reviewers and literary critics associated the stories in Rock Springs with the aesthetic movement known as Dirty realism. This term referred to a group of writers in the 1970s and 1980s that included Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff—two writers Ford was closely acquainted with—as well as Ann Beattie and Jayne Anne Phillips, among others.
However misleading, the term "dirty realism" is still applied to Ford and other writers who write about the sadnesses and losses of ordinary people. Since the Rock Springs collection, Ford's fiction, particularly the "Frank Bascombe" novels (The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land), enjoy material affluence and cultural capital not associated with so-called "dirty realist" style and subject matter.
Although his 1990 novel Wildlife, a story of a Montana golf pro turned firefighter, met with mixed reviews and middling sales, by the end of the 1980s Ford's reputation was solid. He was increasingly sought after as an editor and contributor to various projects. Ford edited the 1990 Best American Short Stories and the 1992 Granta Book of the American Short Story. More recently, he edited the Library of America's two-volume edition of the selected works of fellow Mississippi writer Eudora Welty.
In 1995, Ford’s career reached a high point with the release of Independence Day, a sequel to The Sportswriter, featuring the continued story of its protagonist, Frank Bascombe. Reviews were positive, and the novel became the first to win both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In the same year, Ford was chosen as winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, for outstanding achievement in that genre. Ford’s recent works include the story collections Women with Men (1997) and A Multitude of Sins (2002). The Lay of the Land (2006) continues (and, according to Ford, ends) the Frank Bascombe series.
Ford lived for many years in the French Quarter and then in the Garden District of New Orleans, Louisiana, where his wife Kristina was the executive director of the city planning commission. He now lives in Maine.