Thanks to the suggestion of a friend I went to Richard Ford’s session at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I have read two of his novels: Independence Day and The Sportswriter. I found them easy to read but, for some reason, I was not engaged enough to want to read more. Indeed there was a ten year gap between reading these two.
However I found Ford an engaging character on the stage, and I liked his literal-mindedness: What I mean is what I say; What I say [write] is what I mean. Do not go looking for symbols or signs. Wonderful.
Likewise the host did a fine job in bringing out what Ford had to say, and the talking heads were punctuated with Ford doing some short readings from his most recent novel Canada.
Ford said in passing early in the discussion that, literal though he was, he did write with a ‘higher purpose’ and I was glad that the first question from the floor took him back to that passing aside. He explained that this higher purpose was to renew in the reader emotions and thoughts of the complete person. I have not got his words quite right, for I was not taking notes, but that is the gist. I found that explanation to be both simple and compelling. But imagine what the Derridaistas would make of that. The heavy artillery of cant and ideology, disguised as scholarship, would rumble.
Having never attended a Sydney Writers’ Festival event before I enjoyed it and just might do it again. The only false note came from the host who made a gratuitous and deprecating reference to Des Moines, Iowa. I know people make these kinds of quips without thinking, and indeed that is the point and the problem. It betrays an enduring mindset.
Here is the web description of Ford's talk:
Richard Ford: – 15 July, City Recital Hall
One of the masters of American fiction, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford comes to Sydney for an exclusive event presented by Sydney Writers’ Festival. Ford visits Australia on the heels of the publication of Canada, hailed by John Banville as “an extraordinary, overwhelming book”.
With one of the most finely tuned ears in contemporary fiction Ford explores the big issues of our time with a disarming use of the vernacular. Born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1944, Richard Ford is the author of six novels and four collections of stories. Independence Day was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the first time the same book won both prizes.
He talks to Artistic Director of Sydney Writers’ Festival, Chip Rolley.