When an older gentlemen took the stage last night, clad in a brown sports jacket and purple socks, two things crossed my mind. First, why is the winner of too many literary awards to mention wearing purple socks, and second was, no seriously, why is he wearing purple socks? With my mind searching for answers, I thought of 2011 WordFest alum JJ Lee and what he would have to say on the matter, before our host Aritha Van Herk’s first question provided the answer; his pink ones were dirty.
I like to think it’s also because he can. I suppose esteemed writers in their ‘advancing’ years are free to wear whatever color socks they choose. Richard Ford would definitely fit the bill of esteemed writer, having won, amongst others, the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award, and is currently basking in a seemingly endless supply of rave reviews for his newest book, and feature of last night’s event, Canada.
Simply put, Richard Ford’s appearance at the John Dutton Theatre may have been the best I have ever seen from an author. His candour, his wit, and his willingness to meet every question with a real answer, had the audience’s attention from beginning to end. Never did Ford answer a question with one word or even one sentence, even to yes or no questions. Instead he offered an answer and accompanied it with a story as to why that was his answer. It gave us insight into his work and his life, and allowed the audience to feel the intimacy I spoke of yesterday that one develops from having read an author. This morning I feel as if Richard Ford and I have been friends for years.
When Ford first began to speak, I have to admit I was a little taken aback at his Southern accent. For reasons I can only blame on The Sportswriter’s protagonist Frank Bascombe being from New Jersey by way of Michigan, I thought Richard Ford was from New Jersey, possibly by way of Michigan. It suddenly dawned on me midway through the event last night, that Richard Ford was in fact, not Frank Bascombe.
Of course I like to think that Ford excused my mistake in a way, when he mentioned how there seems to be an expectation of Southern writers to write about the South (much the same way Canadian authors are expected to write about Canada). If Ford was a Southerner, it would stand to reason he would be writing about it, not about New Jersey. Or Canada. Without any research, I actually can’t think of another Southern writer, whose work is not set there. Faulkner, Mitchell, Percy, Warren; all in the South.
But obviously it doesn’t need to be this way. As Ford mentioned last night, his writing doesn’t need to be autobiographical, “in fact it sells my imagination short.” How true.
Last night was a great event, and one that left me regretting I hadn’t read Canada beforehand, but excited that I get to read it in the future. In fact my eagerness to read it even caused me to do something I almost never do; I bought a book. Being a serial borrower from the library, buying books is just something I don’t seem to do. But my desire to read Canada, coupled with the chance to have it signed by the author, was too much to resist. It can now join A Death in the Family (the last book I bought) on my shelf.
And if you’re wondering why a novel, set mostly in Saskatchewan, was titled Canada instead of Saskatchewan, Richard Ford was kind enough to offer a little marketing advice. Saskatchewan is “…easy to draw, hard to pronounce.”