A good speaker knows his subject. A great speaker turns information into experience, presenting it so memorably it stays with the listener.
On Wednesday, July 17, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford treated a capacity crowd at the Community Center to just such an experience. Ford told the Boothbay Register his goal was to give attendees a chance to learn what they always wanted to know about being a writer.
He delivered on that and then some.
The program began with Ford reading the John Cheever short story, “Reunion,” first published in the New Yorker Magazine in 1962.
Becoming the narrator, Ford brought the story to life in the crowded room, traveling with an estranged father and son on their bumpy afternoon journey through restaurants, a news stand and Grand Central Station.
Listeners also had a brief glimpse into Ford’s style in the classroom. Ford has been on the faculty at Williams College and Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia universities. He spoke about Cheever’s story and what makes it “one of the world’s great short stories.”
Quoting Henry James “...the close connection of bliss and bale...things that help with things that hurt,” Ford talked about a writer’s need to define "good."
“Every story and poem has some sense about what ‘good’ is,” he told the audience. “It’s easy to write about evil. You have to find a way to say in the story what ‘good’ is.”
Listeners responded wholeheartedly, complimenting Ford on being “an accomplished writer and excellent teacher.”
Ford recently won the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. He found his way to an award-winning career of more than 40 years after trying other avenues. These included the Marine Corps, hotel management and law school before he decided to be a writer and headed to the University of California at Irvine.
What advice does he give students about becoming writers? "Don't."
“I tell them the odds are stacked against you. You’ve got to just get lucky – be in the right room at the right moment. It was pure luck that I did it.”
“But I grew up in a house across the street from Eudora Welty, so the possibility of becoming a writer was in the air," the Jackson, Mississippi native explained.
Ford is dyslexic, so it takes him a bit longer to read. But reading a story aloud adds to its impact. “Words have qualities other than their cognitive selves,” he told listeners. “They are so interesting.”
The non-profit Community Center relies on donations to offer its programs and services. To make a tax-deductible contribution, mail it to the Community Center at P.O. Box 335, Boothbay Harbor, ME 04538. Cash donations can be brought to the Community Center at the Meadow Mall between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. To donate via a credit card, call 633-9876 or visit https://www.boothbaycommunitycenter.org/ and select “Donate Now."