Life and Letters of Jesse Hill Ford, Southern Writer with Annotations and Commentary

Author: Cheney, Anne
Year:1996
Pages:550
ISBN:0-7734-8876-6
978-0-7734-8876-2
Price:299.95
Jesse Hill Ford's novel Liberation of Lord Byron Jones (1965) was nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, translated into eleven languages, and made into a major motion picture. Then, in 1970, Ford accidentally killed a black GI. The jury acquitted him, but the press did not. This is a fully annotated edition of 140 letters chosen from a collection of 2000 pages. Ford wrote all these letters to his editor, Edward A. Weeks of the Atlantic Monthly. The magazine published most of Ford's thirty stories written during the 1960s, and the Atlantic Monthly Press published all of his longer works of fiction. These letters trace aspects of his career; creative development; recurring themes and motifs, including his love of the outdoors and sensitive portrayals of black characters; and Ford's response to contemporary events and figures, including the death of President Kennedy. They detail his life as a craftsman in Humboldt, Tennessee in the 1960s, his travels from the Caribbean to California and back to Nashville in the 1970s, his difficulties with money, wives, weight, and alcohol. It is also the story of a friendship between a writer who has frequently been compared to Faulkner, and an editor, whom she compares to Maxwell Perkins. This letter collection ends in 1980, but the time spanning 1980-1995 is covered in an Afterword. During this time, he was a screenwriter in Hollywood, a columnist for USA Today, and a creative writing professor. Tragically, he committed suicide shortly after this volume went to print. The book contains a preface by one of his "star" graduates, best-selling writer Richard North Patterson. Author Anne Cheney knew Ford for more than twenty years, and the footnotes and introductions detail their thorough interviews during the ten-year creation of the volume.

Reviews

"Recognizing the importance of his letters, she has carefully selected those that show the full man - his moments of happiness, his frustrations - and with extraordinary skill has weaved them into a compelling, seamless narrative. This brilliantly conceived book is one that belongs in every major library and in the library of every serious student of Southern Literature." - Edward L. Tucker in The Virginia Quarterly Review

"The letters from one man to the other do in fact outline a writer's development and life. This development is succinctly and dramatically outlined in the dedicated 'Introduction' which Cheney provides. Those people interested in the human drama of the conflicts which shape a writer's career will find this volume immensely instructive." - Journal of Popular Culture

"As revealing and humorous as these letters are, they would not give readers so complete an understanding of Ford without the careful and thorough research by Anne Cheney. . . . Cheney fills the gaps between letters with personal knowledge, reports from conversations with Ford, and solicited material from other writers and friends of Ford. For instance, the novelist Richard North Patterson wrote the 'Preface'; the screenwriter Charles Rose wrote the 'Epilogue'; and Jesse Hill Ford himself wrote the 'Denouement'. . . . The Life and Letters of Jesse Hill Ford, Southern Writer is important to both history and literary scholarship because it contributes to an understanding of the time and place out of which Ford wrote, the 1960s and 1970s American South. It also contributes to an understanding of the psyche of the artist who re-worked his materials into fiction. . . this book is a well-done example of what scholarship can do. No library should be without it and no scholar of American literature should fail to read it." - Jeanne R. Nostrandt in The Mississippi Quarterly