Last night Steve and I went to Politics & Prose to see Richard Ford speak. We’ve seen him a number of times—he’s one of Steve’s ultra-favorite authors (in fact, I’m pretty sure that on Steve’s “list,” I clock in well behind Richard Ford!)—and Independence Day has a very secure slot on my "favorite books" bookshelf.
As usual, Richard Ford didn’t disappoint. I should have taken more notes, because it was such a pleasure to hear someone smart talk about his writing process and reel off quote after quote from other writers. Definitely one of those situations where you wish you could just sit and listen for a couple of hours, soaking it all in.
Since I didn’t take many notes, this may be somewhat paraphrased, but for what it’s worth:
Ford talked about how he built his new book Canada from twenty pages that he had written back in 1989, having a situation in mind and little else. When asked about the role of place in his work, it was surprising that he didn’t have an elevated, romantic view of place, noting that he didn’t see place as generative, and that “landscape is, for me, language” and that characters will do what they’re going to do in front of the landscape. Where you’re from is not the determinant of who you are. (I’m not sure I fully agree, but it was a thought-provoking statement.) He said that he thought many of his stories could have taken place in any number of locations, but then laughed and noted that Canada probably couldn’t have taken place in France. (That was a constant: from the beginning, this book was going to be titled Canada.)
Here’s a bit of writing advice I found useful: as a writing teacher, he tries to get students to say a lot of things, to put stuff on the page, to say more and more and more. The idea is that you don’t know what’s there and that if you put a lot on the page, you can discover what’s really relevant and interesting—and edit out the rest.
Also, he was NOT a fan of the Pulitzer board decision to not award a fiction Pulitzer this year…to put it mildly.
It was nice to see a tremendous amount of people in attendance despite the driving rain—and nice to see them all clutching tattered copies of Ford’s books—and nice that Ford signed them all—and nicest of all to chat with Ford in the book line and feel a sense of enveloping graciousness, as if he literally would rather do nothing but chat with you at that exact moment.
He told us that he was on Day 2 of his tour, so if you’re lucky, he’ll be coming somewhere near you. (Check dates/places here.) My gold standard for author readings is “would I drive through a snowstorm to see this writer?” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!
I made a note to look up his interview on writing with The Paris Review, which is here.
And here’s more information about the new novel, Canada, on the Politics and Prose site. Check here, to see when/if you can listen to the event on CD or download.