Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford, one of the country’s most respected and honored fiction writers, joins the University of Mississippi creative writing faculty this fall as a senior fiction writer.
His wife of more than 40 years, Kristina, accompanies him at UM as a member of the faculty, as a visiting professor of public policy leadership.
Richard Ford, a Jackson native who has lived in East Boothbay, Maine, for 12 years, said he is thrilled to return to his home state. He will teach a graduate fiction seminar in fall 2011 and a graduate class on form, craft and influence during the spring 2012 semester.
“I hope the students can see that I, who have been writing for 40 years, am their colleague. I am in the world as they are; I’ve just been doing it longer,” Ford said. “Writing fiction is a vocation as opposed to a profession – there is not a professional ladder whose rungs you climb. I want to encourage them to set the bar high for their efforts and shoot for the moon, as Barry Hannah used to say.”
Hannah, who died in March, last held the faculty position Ford will fill.
Ford’s 1995 novel “Independence Day” was the first novel to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In the same year, Ford was chosen as winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, for outstanding achievement. His other novels include “A Piece of My Heart” (1976), “The Ultimate Good Luck” (1981), “The Sportswriter” (1986), “Wildlife” (1990) and “The Lay of the Land” (2006).
“I need Mississippi much more than Mississippi needs me,” Ford said. “Mississippi has a reputation and a history of being a place of good writers and it seems to me to be wonderfully worthwhile to carry that pennant further.”
Beth Ann Fennelly, an acclaimed poet and UM associate professor of English, was chair of the search committee for the position.
“The University of Mississippi’s literary reputation still stands strong, and that, along with Square Books being here in Oxford and our M.F.A. program being ranked as one of the best in the country by Atlantic Monthly, helped us attract a diverse and incredibly strong pool of applicants,” Fennelly said. “But as soon as we found out that Richard Ford could potentially be interested in the position, we knew which way we hoped the search would lead.”
Fennelly said Ford is “at the top of his game – vibrant, lively, charismatic and incredibly generous to his students.”
“Richard has taught at Trinity College (in Dublin, Ireland) and at Princeton, and he certainly could teach anywhere in the world. But he wanted to give something back, and he felt he had something to give to Mississippi, so he chose to come here,” she said.
Ivo Kamps, chair of the UM English department, said the search committee did an extraordinary job recruiting Ford.
“Our efforts were strongly aided by Dean Glenn Hopkins, Provost Morris Stocks and Chancellor Dan Jones, who were instrumental in making this hire a reality,” Kamps said. “Ole Miss and the town of Oxford, already known for their many talented and successful writers, have just landed one of the true giants on the American literary scene, and we couldn’t be happier about it.”
The chief of staff for community development of New Orleans, Kristina Ford is a distinguished city planner, academician and author. She was the executive director of the New Orleans city planning commission for eight years and has written three books on community planning issues, including 2010’s “The Trouble with City Planning: What New Orleans Can Teach Us” (Yale University Press).
Kamps said Richard and Kristina Ford have both enjoyed immensely successful careers, and for them to come to UM is a genuine boon to the institution, its faculty and students.
“She will bring the type of real-world experience that our students need and crave, and forge closer ties between academia and other communities; he will continue to write wonderful novels and stories and help shape the next generation of young writers to come through Ole Miss,” Kamps said.
Chancellor Dan Jones said the Fords both bring acclaim, recognition and personal passion to the university.
“It is a tremendous honor for our creative writing program to have a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction join us,” Jones said. “Richard Ford’s presence adds to the great history of writers associated with the University of Mississippi and Oxford, and all our students, fellow faculty and the entire university community will benefit. We welcome this great Mississippian home.
“We also are pleased to welcome Kristina Ford to our faculty. A nationally acclaimed city planner, author and academic, she brings a unique set of experiences to our university.”
Since 2008, Richard Ford has been adjunct professor at the Oscar Wilde Centre with the School of English at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and teaches creative writing. He received a B.A. from Michigan State University and an M.F.A. from the University of California-Irvine. Kristina Ford has served as an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.