Friday, March 8, 2013

Richard Ford: "You don't write it down, and it becomes a worry..."

Richard Ford at the St. Louis County Library on Lindbergh
Richard Ford arrived at 7:10 PM on March 8, 2013, at the St. Louis County Library on Lindbergh to find a steamy, hot room full of people.  The thermostat was perhaps playing tricks, a person who introduced the person who introduced Ford (ahem, the latter being John Dalton* from UMSL) said.  Ford did what writers typically do in situations like these: he read to his audience.  First, from one of his short stories taking place in St. Louis, then from the book he was promoting, Canada.  I do not believe he impressed with his reading skills (the way a T.C. Boyle did a year or so ago.)  But he did make a few interesting comments, and here are some that captured my interest.   

First, he discussed what happens in a writer's head, and asserted that a writer's mind talks in twenty voices at the same time.  "Now," Ford said, "everyone talks in voices - for example, when you go to the doctor and listen to what he's telling you, you play his voice in your head along with yours. But there is a difference between writers and the rest of the world," said Ford.  "We, writers, have use for it, this habit of playing a crazy assortment of voices in our head.   We write it down on the paper," he said, "and it becomes a story.  You, on the other hand, you don't write it down on the paper - and it becomes a worry."
About him choosing to leave a Mississipi plagued by racial tensions:
"I did not have the courage to stay, I just left.  Because if I stayed, I would have fallen in one bad place or another in an unpredictable way... Because I was not strong willed...I was callow, in a I just thought - go off to Michigan State ...(who)... let me in, I think, as kind of a racial condiment..."
Why he hasn't written more about Mississipi:
"...Because everyone has done it before, and better than me! When I won the Pulitzer prize," Ford continued, "I wasn't even the first person on my block to win the Pulitzer Prize..." (referring to faimous Mississipians who lived nearby, Faulkner, Welty, or to Percy who lived in New Orleans.) 

Although short, I thought this was a pleasant evening, with remarkable insights.

*- I was happy to discover Dalton, who was all business, quite articulate and very much into marketing.  I'll check out his books.