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Richard Ford Has Some Ideas For Your Summer Reading List

Richard Ford illustration by Jay Sacher

Editor's note: today's post is the first contribution to LiveWork Portland by Jay Sacher, a writer, illustrator, and cartoonist who moved to Portland from San Francisco in 2011. His writing and illustration work can be seen at jaysacher.com.

Yesterday afternoon, The Portland Public Library played happy host to author Richard Ford. Though popularly known as a southern author, Ford is also a Mainer, having lived for twelve years in the small coastal town of East Boothbay, an eighty minute drive up the coast from Portland. His reading in the Rines Auditorium was the final stop on a twenty-eight city tour promoting his new novel, Canada.

Given Ford’s lofty stature in the world of letters, and all those severe, craggy-eyed author portraits on his book jackets, I half-expected a lunch hour of postured lecturing, but while Ford joked he had brought the balmy climate of his native Mississippi with him to New England, he was anything but languorous. He bristled with goodwill, intelligence, and eloquence--the man is clearly just as much an educator as a writer--and his reading from the first chapter of Canada was mesmerizing.

When asked why the South has given birth to so many legendary writers, Ford had a twofold answer. The South, Ford said, has a lot of explaining to do. And secondly, just as a basic rule, successful creative people (in this case, writers) beget other successful creative people. Ford grew up in the same town as Eudora Welty, and met William Faulkner when he was seventeen. And although he didn’t read either author until later in life, the very fact that such people existed in the same world as his gave him “permission” to defy the social pressures to pursue safe and sensible careers. It's an inspiring notion for our own creative hotspot here in Maine, a state Ford was quick to point out is chock full of talented authors.

To top it off, Ford had book recommendations: William Boyd’s first novel, A Good Man in Africa, and Peter Englund’s survey of the First World War told through personal narratives, The Beauty and the Sorrow. I foresee a run on these titles at Longfellow Books.

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