Richard Ford and the Future of Literature

by Anna Samuels

Looking out over a sea of students in the Shorecrest High School library, Richard Ford lets his audience in on a little secret: “You’re the future of literature, whether you like it or not.” And with that admission begins an inspiring and candid lecture from a master storyteller.

There’s not much that Ford fails to mention in his hour-long discussion—the life of the stay-at-home husband, his inability to write an entire poem and his literary influences (Faulkner and Welty, to name a few) all make an appearance. Ford’s hatred of Facebook (“I’m gonna get into my grave comfortably without having a Facebook account.”) and his personal writing ritual, which is refreshingly simple and down-to-earth (does his push-ups, watches the news, sits down in a quiet boathouse and waits for inspiration with ballpoint pen in hand) both become the stuff of storytelling thanks to his kind eyes and soothing Southern drawl.

Reading has always been much more than a pastime for Ford. The author, who continues to struggle with dyslexia to this day, describes literature as his saving grace. “When I read, something happened to me,” Ford divulges. “I felt like whatever it was in me that was feeling unrewarded got fixed. Somehow I felt better about life.” Listening to Ford read aloud from a selected short story is a powerful experience; he reads slowly with extreme concentration, feels each word in his mouth and delivers a story that seems as if it was written just for us, huddled inside this library.

“I don’t want to be subversive in this conversation, but this is your life,” Ford concludes, reminding me again why this talk at this high school is going so well. Ford seems to have a genuine concern for and interest in this group of young adults. During the question and answer portion of the talk, most of the students’ queries are tinged with a monetary anxiety (“Did you not worry about making a living?” and “How long did it take for you to make a career as a writer?”), an anxiety that I, having graduated from college less than a year ago, am quite familiar with. Can we really do what we love and still pay our bills? Ford’s advice is to pursue your passion and worry about the bills later (Or, in his case, marry someone who will take care of the bills. When asked what the first step in becoming a writer is, he automatically answers, “Marry Christina Ford.”).

“It was my life, I could spend it or waste it any way I wanted to,” Ford states, implying an unspoken, “And you can too!” to his gathered teenage disciples. There are probably a handful of future writers making their way back to their classrooms that Tuesday afternoon, and more than likely some aspiring artists or maybe a few with dreams of owning an independent bookstore. Thanks to Ford, hopefully they’ll hold onto those aspirations and we can rest assured that literature will do just fine.

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