"To us, life in our house seemed normal ... (but) we didn't have a life like most children ..." read Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford from his book "Canada" to a quiet, mesmerized audience of nearly 200 people at the Darien Library on Sunday, Feb. 10.
"I'd do anything for the library," Ford said before his talk and book signing, which was organized by Barrett Bookstore. "I was a kid raised in the library in Mississippi."
He added, "It's a social center. It's a place where kids can come after school and be safe. It's a place where thoughts can actually happen without the overseeing of the `thought police.' "
Ford's floral Southern accent is only part of his Jackson, Miss., heritage -- the same town that produced Eudora Welty. "In the air in Mississippi was literature. ... That's so important because it grants to anybody who's aware of it that sense of permission that you can deviate from being a lawyer ... or any of those professions."
Ford shared that he was slow to start reading, owing to learning difficulties.
But when he finally became interested, at around age 18, his slow pace lent itself to a focus on the words themselves.
The title of his novel "Canada," which was released last year and now is in paperback, is an example of this.
"I have a real love affair with Canada," he said, "so every time I go to Canada I feel better. ... I'm a patriotic American, and I don't necessarily think that Canada is better except on some days, but this was a feeling I had," he said, referencing the title.
"I also just like the word," he said, despite the negative response it got from his editors, who said a book called "Canada" would never sell.
"Young or old, you should never let anybody talk you out of your title," he said.
"When you start trying to be a writer, you don't know what you're doing," he said.
But he emphasized that it's important for new writers to realize they're going through the exact same process that the most famous writers have gone through.
"I just write down everything that seems interesting to me," he said of his own process, which is more like a collage than linear narrating. "I'm always trying to put unequal things together."
He said he always keeps a notebook in hand. "I just write (things) down religiously because it reminds me of what my vocation is," he said.
He had plenty of fans in attendance. "I love his writing," said Doug Wright, of New Canaan. "I've read all his books. I think he's one of the best."
"I love his Frank Bascombe trilogy," he said, which includes the books "The Sportswriter," "Independence Day" and "The Lay of the Land." "Independence Day" was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Steve Simon, of New Canaan, concurred, citing Bascombe as a character "who's trying to find himself professionally and emotionally."
"I've read a number of his books over the years, and I've loved everything that I've read," he said.
Ford lives in East Boothby, Maine, with his wife Christina and their various pets. They also both teach part time at Columbia University, where Ford teaches a class on literature as part of the master of fine arts program.
"I put them through a course of reading," Ford said. "Basically, the idea is to think about what are the formal features of a piece of fiction."
Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.